Within two minutes of the start of Raksha Bandhan, you’re confused: is it 2022 or 1962? The centerpiece of ‘Raksha Bandhan’ is a film about a guy with four younger sisters who are only concerned with one thing: how to have them married off,’ and the lengths he will go to achieve that goal.
It’s not as if there aren’t brothers who are entirely dedicated to their sisters’ well-being in this day and age. Sibling love has always played an important role in Hindi movies. However, the storyline and, more significantly, how it is handled takes us back in time.
Lala Kedarnath (Akshay Kumar) owns a ‘chaat-ki-dukaan’ in Chandni Chowk with a distinct USP: all pregnant ladies who eat his ‘gol-gappas’ will have boys. Boom. Your mouth drops as your first gong falls. Of course, this is only the beginning. Lalaji enters his house, seated in a tiny gali, labeling his unmarried sisters by their physical characteristics: one is overweight, another is dark, the third is a hoyden; only the oldest, the ‘achcha bacchcha’ (good girl), is naturally the only one who is pretty and modest. No, I’m not joking.
So that’s what we get. Lalaji negotiates the ‘weight’ of his ‘unbyaahi behens’ on one side, and attempts to reconcile his filial duty with his personal wishes on the other. A childhood sweetheart (Bhumi Pednekar) waits in the wings, her loudmouth father (Neeraj Sood) lurking. When it comes to weddings, marriage brokers are required (Seema Pahwa). And how can dowry deaths be far behind?
I’m not sure which will make you more uneasy: the mothballed plot detailing, the contrivances, the high-pitched melodrama that used to be part and parcel of movies we thought we’d deep-sixed decades ago; or the conviction that low-rent family dramas, with their uneasy mix of humor and crassness that was once hugely popular, are the way out for a beleaguered Bollywood.
Lalaji, who is considerably older than the women around him, is given an explanation later in the video, which causes additional sniffles. Everyone gets to cry at a funeral. Finally, when everyone on screen has shed their last tear, a few rays of hope arise. Remember the traditional approach for squeezing in a shard of progressiveness after the film had bludgeoned us with its saccharine? After the loss of a young girl and, wait for it, a kidney, the film becomes a beacon for females to stand on their own two feet and combat the horrors of dowry.
But this better-late-than-never change of heart appears to be a deliberate afterthought, designed to make the carping so-called progressives happy after the purportedly conventional types have had their fill.
What keeps us going is Akshay’s utter devotion to the part of ‘bada bhaiyya,’ without straying out of character even once. The females aren’t too awful either, whenever they have a chance to speak out. When they are portrayed to be their own people, accepting their size and skin tone, the film turns into a more positive mode. You’d want to see more of this.
You wonder whether this is the only way to top-line the ‘bhaiyya mere, rakhi ka bandhan toh nibhaana’ mood for today’s viewers.
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