Khandaani Shafakhana is the newest in the line of “small town” dramedies that seem to be the fad in Bollywood. It checks all the boxes—a female protagonist who doesn’t care for gender roles, an unusual family, quirky and eccentric characters, a major social taboo, and Indian middle-class conservatism as the villain.
But somewhere, Khandaani Shafakhana separates itself from the pack by being more realistic for the most part. It keeps things grounded instead of taking overly optimistic leaps about the realities of small-town India.
Sonakshi Sinha plays Baby Bedi, a pharmaceutical salesperson and sole wage-earner for a family that includes her mother and brother, who inherits her mama’s “Khandaani Shafakhana” that primarily caters to patients with sexual disorders like erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.
The taboo around sex in Indian society is at the heart of the film, as Baby’s uncle (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), popularly known as “mamaji” was a hakeem who made herbal pills and potions for his patients. Strangely, he’s shot dead by one of them because his medicine was so effective that the patient pleasured one too many women other than his wife, leading to a divorce.
The film is a genuine effort to talk about the stigma around sex and sex education in Indian society as well as sexual dissatisfaction in marriages, although one may ask if that really is the problem with Indian marriages that needs to be a film. But like most Bollywood films, the script is found lacking. It’s stuck between its niche origins and being relatable, which means that it often tries too hard to be funny and make pop cultural references that most would understand. It becomes preachier as it goes on until the climactic scene, which almost feels like a sermon engineered to drive home the “moral of the story.”
But Khandaani Shafakhana’s achievement lies more in creating a character like Baby Bedi and choosing her as its lead. It doesn’t try to cast her in the unrealistic “small-town badass” mould by making her smoke, drink, swear, and physically assault people. Nor does it try to define her by her quest to find a man who accepts her for who she is. Instead, it focuses on the reality of many small-town Indian families and shows her as the daughter who steps up to support her family when no one else will. It shows her as a human with specific career ambitions but keeps them rooted in her reality of being the only wage-earner in the family.
Perhaps even more importantly, instead of creating an unrealistic and now overused stereotype of the girl who just doesn’t care about what anyone thinks, Baby is shown as someone who deeply cares for her family. What makes the film palatable despite all its flaws is how, just like a very typical Indian girl, she hides stuff from her mother, confides in her oddball brother, wants to take care of them, and have their approval.
Khandaani Shafakhana is perhaps too niche and not good enough to make any waves, but Baby Bedi can certainly be a new, refreshing, realistic, and empowering archetype for the small-town girl that Bollywood can use.
About the author:
Liberal, feminist, and a student of screenwriting, Bhaskar Chawla devours films and TV shows at a stupendous pace and writes about them. Read his other articles here.