RakshaBandhan review: Akshay Kumar film moves you to tears with strong message on dowry, entertains with clean humour
RakshaBandhan review: Akshay Kumar's films delivers a strong message on dowry without trivialising the issue while managing to be an entertaining watch.
It's not for nothing that people say Akshay Kumar knows and understands the pulse of his audience and accordingly makes films. With his latest release, Raksha Bandhan, Akshay only proves that if a film has its heart in the right place, it will connect with the audiences. This is not the first time the actor has done a film that's relevant and has a strong social message — Raksha Bandhan touches upon the issue of dowry system in India. But it's the way director Aanand L Rai chooses to narrate the story, weaving together the most delicate threads to deliver a strong message, that does the trick. Also read: Akshay Kumar calls dowry ‘extortion’ ahead of Raksha Bandhan release
Set in the lanes of Chandni Chownk in Old Delhi, the film introduces us to Lala Kedarnath (Akshay), who owns a pushtaini golgappa shop which has been there for three generations now. Pregnant women queue up outside the shop and believe that eating panipuri from Lala's shop will help them deliver a baby boy. Meanwhile, Lala had promised his mother on her deathbed that he'll settle down with a girl only after he has married off his four sisters to suitable boys. And that's the big task at hand for the sisters, as described by matchmaker Shanu (Seema Pahwa), are a mixed variety. While the eldest of the four, Gayatri (Sadia Khateeb) is the ideal and sensible one, Durga (Deepika Khanna) is chubby and on the heavier side, Laxmi (Smrithi Srikanth) has dusky skin that doesn't fit the society's beauty standards, and the youngest, Saraswati (Sahejmeen Kaur) is tomboyish, who has grown up watching films like Ghatak, Ghayal and Ziddi, all starring Sunny Deol. Amid all this chaos, Lala's childhood sweetheart Sapna (Bhumi Pednekar) is desperately waiting to get married to him but only after his sisters are taken care of. How Akshay fulfills his promise and what hardships he faces on the way is the gist of what we see in Raksha Bandhan.
What I loved the most about the film is the beautiful balance it brings in terms of emotions. It's loaded with humour in the first half and there are some genuinely funny and heart-warming scenes including constant nudging from the sisters, teasing their only brother, Sapna's desperate attempts to lure Lala and so on. Cut to post interval, and the emotional arc of characters, as well as the storyline leaves you immersed, and gets you teary-eyed more often you'd expect.
Himanshu Sharma and Kanika Dhillon's story never attempts to overshadow an important subject like dowry in the garb of comedy. There are lighter moments which kind of address the trouble but there are also some extremely hard-hitting dialogue and scenes that are powerful and succeed in sending out a strong message. Groom's family demanding dowry or bride's family giving it concealed as gifts is a problematic arrangement that nobody really talks about. While many think it's a thing that's more prevalent in the rural sectors and the cities have advanced on this front, it's just not the case. In fact, richer the family, there's more exchange (willingly or forcibly) of these gifts. Raksha Bandhan calls out this practice in a very effective and emotional manner. For once, it's good that Bollywood hasn't trivialised an issue to make a point.
Consistency in the narrative is one of the biggest strengths of the film. The storyline rarely loses focus and is well-paced. We're told only that much backstory of these siblings that required to make a connection. Director Aanand L Rai doesn't go overboard taking us back and forth with flashbacks. At 110 minutes, the film is very cleverly edited and doesn't leave any room to look repetitive or boring.
However, the stereotypes attached to some of the characters might not go down well with everyone. The way some scenes normalise body shaming calling Durga 'double decker', skin shame Laxmi calling her 'amavas ki raat' who needs to be 'marinated in uptan', aren't really necressary. In one of the scenes, Shanu whose marriage bureau is called Saubhayashali: Beti aapki, chinta hamari, calls Saraswati 'Chota Shakeel' and says 'isko Sunny Deol se Sunny Leone banana hai'. (Ouch, that's a bit below the belt). Though, the sass with which these sisters reply, 'Big is beautiful' or 'Black is back' shows how girls are ready to hit back at the society that constantly judges.
Akshay is terrific as a doting brother. He is hilarious in the comic scenes and unbelievably vulnerable in the emotional ones. This is perhaps after a long, long time I've seen Akshay cry so much on screen for a film. His charisma, conviction, pain, passion and energy reflect throughout. Bhumi as the helpless lover is convincing and has a pleasant screen presence, though her chemistry this time around with Akshay wasn't quite as good as their previous outings.
The way Raksha Bandhan approaches the brother sister bond is quite unusual. We never really see these sisters open up to the only brother they have yet they have so much they expect from him. Knowing his sisters are the only reason he can't marry anytime soon, Akshay never shows any sense of annoyance or feeling burdened. While all the four girls get ample screen time (maybe not as many lines) to shine and perform — it's the camaraderie between Sadia and Akshay that stands out. Their scenes together are endearing, especially the one when she's getting married and the song that plays.
Raksha Bandhan is a family entertainer that takes the form of social commentary at some places, but not at the cost of losing its main essence of celebrating the sibling bond and its beauty. Watch it with your folks and definitely your partner in crime, your siblings.
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Sadia Khateeb, Deepika Khanna, Smrithi Srikanth, Sahejmeen Kaur
Director: Aanand L Rai