Khandaani Shafakhana movie review: In case you’d forgotten, Sonakshi Sinha is no Ayushmann Khurrana
Director: Shilpi Dasgupta
Cast: Sonakshi Sinha, Badshah, Varun Sharma
Rating: 2 stars
Sexual dysfunctions in India are grouped under the title ‘Gupt Rog’ — which has the unfortunate effect of making patients sound traumatised by the knowledge of Kajol being the killer — and it is indeed peculiar that we continue to assign such shame and secrecy to any sexual problem. With few people going to actual sexologists, phrases used by practitioners of sex clinics (as well as hucksters on the street) sound weirdly astrological as opposed to medical: those with very low motility are said to suffer from Nil Shukranu, for instance.
Watch the trailer for Khandaani Shafakhana
Several Indian patients are therefore routinely treated on the sly, by Unani hakims — doctors working in the Hellenic tradition — and Shilpi Dasgupta’s debut film Khandaani Shafakhana is about a clinic run by a revered old doctor called Mamaji, played by the venerable Kulbhushan Kharbanda, who has spent decades fixing problems that people won’t publicly speak of. One day, this Mamaji is killed by a former patient who couldn’t deal with his overactive sex-drive: he kills the old man for having made him too virile.
The reading of his will leads to a Maalamaal-like setup where the clinic is bequeathed to Mamaji’s niece but on the condition that she actively runs the place for six months, since Mamaji doesn’t want his patients to feel abandoned. It’s a standard setup and the film’s intent is clear: to get people talking about their problems instead of being beset by shame, and often trusting in snake-oil salesmen when they require help from qualified professionals.
So far so straightforward. The problem arises when a film like this tries to play sexual troubles for laughs — making jokes of a wrestler with a broken penis, or a popular musician suffering from erectile disorder — and while Khandaani Shafakhana tries to eventually reach out with empathy, the initial attempts at humour rise mostly from the heroine’s disgust.
The other problem comes from the film’s unnecessary attempts at melodrama, but these are both redundant and half-baked. In one scene, for instance, a mother is evicted from her house and ends up giving an evocative speech about pride and loss of face, but then we never see her living elsewhere. It’s as if the filmmakers were instructed to amp up the drama to increase the storytelling stakes — I keep picturing producers and executives asking for more conflict, the way characters in this film want more ghee on their parathas — and that hurts this film’s simple, good-natured spirit.
A big positive comes from the rapper Badshah. As a larger-than-life popstar called Gabru Ghattack — to rhyme with attack — he plays a man with erectile disorder who bawls about his problem moments after he first emerges from an SUV, covered in fur and bling like a silvery teddybear. He later refuses to help out the Shafakhana because, as he says, “Image is everything.” It’s a bold role for the musician to take, one that is aware of the connotations, as other characters in the film call him “a homo pop star” because his equipment doesn’t work. Again, the joke is on them and not him — but who is the audience laughing at? Still, big ups to the rapper to take on this persona. He’s a man who likes spirit, and the character tells us that in as many words: “I respect jazba,” he says, wearing a jacket that is somehow equal parts Sgt Peppers and Shiv Sena.
The niece running the show is wonderfully named Baby Bedi, and played by the equally alliterative Sonakshi Sinha. Despite visible attempts at sincerity, the actress can’t make the character work, and that isn’t just because of her inconsistent Punjabi accent. Baby Bedi is a poorly written character of convenience, witless in one scene and quick in another, behaving as the script needs her to, and not how the character would. She tries very hard, but her presence only underlines how this is basically an Ayushmann Khurrana film without Ayushmann Khurrana.
There is, refreshingly, no hero to speak of. Priyanshu Jora, as a nice guy who supports Bedi, doesn’t get any heroic moments except to smile at the girl when most needed, and is known in the film (and the end credits) only as Lemon Hero.
Watch | Khandaani Shafakhana interview
The film has some smashing lines — a street-side faker promises a client “Ab Tu nahin, teri khabrein aayengi,” telling him that now the huckter won’t hear from the client but instead hear only stories of his exploits — and there are fun actors in smaller parts. Annu Kapoor stars as a stern lawyer who is also part Captain Haddock (hearing the word “dunderheads” in a Punjabi accent is something I won’t soon forget), he’s opposed by an interestingly floppy haired lawyer played by Arun Johra, and Rajesh Sharma shows up as a judge rightfully amused by all the cacophony. The film culminates in an amusing courtroom free-for-all where the transcriptionist asks the judge if he should leave in the bits about sex. That’s where Sharma, still laughing, gets briefly real as he says of course not. Sad but true.
As a nation, we need to talk about sex. We’re obviously having enough of it to not be scandalised this easy. It’s not all shock and haww.
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