Badhaai Ho, Queerness Barely Explored

The movie made a lot of noise right at the start, but for a section of the queer community, it was quite disappointing. With the trailer just under 3 minutes, Badhaai Ho is a movie about ‘marriage of convenience between two closeted queers, and the Pride March in the movie has a ‘straight pride” flag! (I mean, just fire your ADs already!).

In Badhaai Ho, Rajkumar Rao plays police officer Shardul Thakur, and Bhumi Pednekar plays Suman Singh in Badhaai Ho. Both of whom are closeted people dealing with similar marriage pressures in their respective homes. It does come across as a new and refreshing story for mainstream Bollywood, with jokes, desire, romance, hurt, and the growth of characters into “self-acceptance,” but the fact that it still needs to fit into caste and cis-het norms was hard to watch.

The “lavender marriage” concept shown as the only way out for closeted queers was not a great idea, especially while parts of the queer community are debating over the idea of marriage itself. The concept of marriage fits very well with the caste-based heterosexual systems, but not so much with the queer community and their queer relationships.

Queer love and queer relationships are not just about orientation but also have the capacity to redefine relationships, labels, and love itself. Queerness is about breaking the societal gender binary and constantly questioning the heteronormativity that is constantly thrown around everywhere in our society. This movie completely fails to question or address any of these, and only talks about queerness as an orientation.

So, for anyone questioning the gender binary, the concept of marriage, and who aren’t from the upper-caste, the movie has nothing to do with the queerness they identify in themselves. It is probably relatable to a section of cis-gendered people from upper-caste society, and so the movie ends up excluding the various sections and intersections of the queer community.

And like most films about queerness, it was all about coming out and nothing beyond that. The film still manages to start conversations about queerness thanks to the splendid performances and the lovely supporting cast. Chum Darang was a delight to watch, while Gulshan Devaiah was underutilized in the narrative.

The Badhaai Ho’s lighter moments revolve primarily around domestic life, as would be expected of a typical married couple. There are some beautiful and somewhat unconventional romantic scenes to show how the two romances parallel the relationship that builds between Sumi and Shardul. There clearly wasn’t enough work around the partner’s characters, and a lot more focus was put on the two main leads, who are not in a relationship but are in a marriage.

“Lavender marriage” works as a way to avoid the marriage pressures of one’s natal family, but it fails to address the larger issue of heteronormativity. Typically, taking this path doesn’t allow queer individuals to further explore other possibilities of queerness, it only complicates life and relationships further. More nuanced movies about queer relationships that doesn’t talk about having to compromise queerness to fit into heteronormativity would be nice. What would also be nice are queer stories that talk about more than just coming out as a central plot.

Catch the movie soon on Netflix and hoping more and more nuanced stories that include various ideas of queerness are made!