Raksha Bandhan is not just your run-of-the-mill regressive film. It’s also crass, sexist, racist, patriarchal, body-shaming and has Akshay Kumar. Even his irritable hair-pulling antics and loud-mouthed humour can’t save this film which revels in its tone-deafness. Raksha Bandhan, in its bid to extract comedy out of social evils, forgets where to draw the line. Not everything can be joked about.
Welcome to Chandini…. Chowk’s set in Mumbai. Akshay plays Lala Kedarnath, a chaat-papdi vendor, whose shop is famous in Delhi. No, not for using curd made of pure cow milk but for selling gol-gappas to pregnant women; the spice water guaranteeing a male heir. Biologically, he should be feeding the husbands. Anyway, he has four sisters who, as introduced by Lala, are the obese one, the dark-skinned one, the Sunny Deol (tomboy) and of course, the light-toned dutiful achcha bachcha Gayatri.
The others are also named after goddesses but their agency is only in the name. Lala also has a childhood sweetheart Sapna (Bhumi Pednekar) whose sole purpose in life is to get married to him. But Lala is a devoted son. He had vowed at the bedside of his dying mother not to marry before all his sisters tie the knot. One of them, as heard in a dialogue, attends tuitions. Is he willing to facilitate a child-marriage or wait till eternity?
Now, for the conflict: Lala has to arrange money to pay for their dowry. For that, he will perform at jagratas, mortgage his shop, bear the chidings of Sapna’s father and even sell his kidney. Raju from Hera Pheri will be very disappointed. What could have been solved by one sister’s extended monologue on women’s rights meanders for over two hours? But then this is an Akshay Kumar film, and only he can save it and the women in it. He seems to like taking up a workload nobody asked him to. Akshay will berate people attempting to create ‘local’ humour, slap running kids on the head, and beat up baddies for cat-calling his sisters. Oh, and then he will take a mic and tell the entire Chandini Chowk that whoever cat-calls anybody’s sister will have to marry her.
Raksha Bandhan, in the first half, attempts to portray our society but never shows it the mirror. When the conservatives and the bigots have had their fill of the boisterous humour and the sacrificial sentiments, the second half presents a punch-in-the-gut that can be easily dodged. The film spends most of its time in lauding the selflessness of the bhai and the sisters are basically cattle who need to be tied to somebody else’s house. By the time both Lala and the audience realise the futility of their actions it’s too late. Moral of the story: Dowry bad, women empowerment good.
Film: Raksha Bandhan
Director: Aanand L Rai
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Sadi Khateeb, Sahejmeen Kaur, Smrithi Srikanth, Deepika Khanna