“My parents were known as ‘lovebirds’. They would hold hands everywhere, and they would go for these long walks after dinner,” says Amit Ravindernath Sharma, director of the recent hit Badhaai Ho, a film which centres around a late pregnancy for a couple in their early fifties, and the romance between them. Sharma’s parents and family were the primary source material for the film.
Badhaai Ho, starring Ayushmann Khurrana , Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao in the lead, has steadily gained popularity at the box office. “In mid-2015, I had heard this one-line idea from my writers, Akshat and Shantanu. What happens when a 51-year-old woman gets pregnant? She already has a son who is of marriageable age, and has a girlfriend. I wanted to make a full feature film on it. I come from an advertising background, and in advertising, we love making ad films jinka idea bada hota hai,” says Sharma, 39, whose last cinematic outing was Tevar (2015), which did not register with the critics or the box office.
Badhaai Ho, set in Lodhi Colony, New Delhi, spans the ups and downs that a middle-class family goes through when an unexpected pregnancy comes their way. There is the disapproving mother-in-law, the embarrassed and ashamed sons, and the raised eyebrows, winks and and nudges from society. “We took two years to write the film, because we knew that something like this hadn’t been attempted before. We didn’t want to make the references vulgar, and the comedy had to be situational. Like when the mother-in-law finds out that her son is about to be a father again, she comments: ‘Time kab mil gaya tujhe (When did you find the time)’,” says Sharma.
While Hollywood has had adult romances — the latest was Robert Redford- and Jane Fonda-starrer Our Souls at Night — Indian cinema has not really embraced the thought. We saw glimpses in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (2007), with Shabana Azmi and Boman Irani playing a newly married couple in their fifties, and there was Listen Amaya (2013), which had Deepti Naval and the late Farooq Shaikh, who discover love and compatibility later in their lives.
“The very idea that our parents are individuals in their own right, never occurs to us. We place them on this pedestal. And we forget that just because we have grown up and they have entered their fifties, the basic needs that drive all humans have vanished from their lives. And I wanted to say it in a very subtle way, hum haans kar, bahut cheezien keh jaate hain (We get away with a lot through humour),” says the director. The films doesn’t employ the tested trope of a man giving a rousing speech and rescuing the ‘honour’ of a woman. The romance between the parents is very subtle, with hidden glances and gestures.
The film also tackles the question of women’s rights over their bodies and their reproductive system. Even within the confines of a typical Delhi family, the final decision to go through with the pregnancy lies with the mother. Rao, who plays the dutiful husband, says ‘Tera kasht, decision bhi tera hi hoga (your body, your decision)’. “We had written this scene, but I was not convinced. I felt that there was something missing, and I am sure the audience would have sensed that too. In today’s time and age, we can’t have this argument alone — ki bachcha girana paap hai. That’s when we wrote that line — kasht tera hai, decision bhi tera hi hoga,” says Sharma. Sharma, who hails from Delhi, and has lived in Jangpura Extension and Lajpat Nagar, captured the details of the non-posh part of South Delhi to the hilt. Be it the framed wedding photographs, or the diwan in the drawing room where the daadi is settled — all of theses references come from Sharma’s own life. “The Kaushiks — except for the late pregnancy thing — are my parents. And I have lived in such sarkari houses,” says Sharma, a Delhi University alumnus.
“We need the conviction to tell a story, no matter how ‘off beat’ or ‘experimental’. Our audiences are intelligent enough. The leaps that our industry has taken should be credited to their growing maturity. I don’t know if Badhaai Ho would have worked five years ago,” says Sharma, who is currently directing his next venture, a football biopic, produced by Boney Kapoor.