TV + Movies

“Enough Of Heterosexual Companionship!”: The Regular Marriage Trope In Badhaai Do

You talk about marginalization by challenging the dominant. However, the idea of heterosexual marriage remains completely unquestioned here (because the entire film industry thrives on it), as if both can exist simultaneously and peacefully without any friction.

Harshvardhan Kulkarni’s Badhaai Do comes across as a new and refreshing story from the Hindi film industry where the limits to marriage, having children, family response and social acceptability are all questioned and bent down to making two homosexual characters exist in a society. There is humour, pain, desire, romance, growth of characters into self-acceptance, which ultimately strings along with their overpowering presence in the society. However, it seems like there can’t be a queer story without caste-heteronorms being stuffed into it.

Heterosexual marriage as the only getaway

The queer community still debates over the central importance given to marriage and how it shapes queer relationships as neatly fitting into the caste-based heterosexual mould. The centrality given to marriage here ropes in families but does not even invest in the process of them coming to terms with their children’s sexuality, which completely defeats the purpose of taking the marriage and social acceptance route. We do get to see Shardul’s (Raj Kumar Rao) mother hugging him in empathy for having to hide such an important thing about himself all his life. Sumi’s father however suddenly transitions from “mere ghar me hi kyu? (why in my house?)” to asking Rimjhim (Chum Darang) to sit next to Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar) at the childbirth ritual as “Maa ka hona zaruri hota hai”. How that transition happens is something we are clueless about, thereby not really helping families (in the audience) to understand the process of acceptance.

What if Shardul and Sumi never get married and yet become companions in their journeys of social acceptance? Can single women not adopt children? Do they have to really come out about their sexual orientation at the adoption centre? Since the story is more about coming out, the erasure of marriage wouldn’t have changed much in the plot. Rimjhim still won’t have any right over the child. Sumi and Shardul would still be living dual lives as single people and later coming out about their sexuality.

Having marital partners is offensive to us unmarried folks as the married partner gets all social and legal rights. If Rimjhim is uncomfortable with Shardul publicly romancing with Sumi, how does she get comfortable with having a child with them whose social and legal rights will inevitably belong to the father? The film does not address this issue at all.

The last scene where Sumi and Shardul are sitting at the ceremony with their partners beside them is especially irksome as if offering a reminder that it’s the marriage that sustains them together, and makes the adoption possible. The adoption will gain validation only through Brahminical rituals of the caste Hindu family. This is rather heart-breaking for a lot of single women like me who choose to not marry but want to have a child, and for Ambedkarite women who do not want a Brahminical ritual to validate my child. The scene triggered me, reminding me of the everyday discussions my family pushes on me about how I can’t socially have a child without getting married. And marrying a gay man would mean sharing my parental rights with him, which my partner and I may not want. So, you can deal with heteronormativity, but not with patriarchy that dictates that you need a man, of not lower than your own caste, to have a child with social sanction. 

All love is not the same

“Love is love” goes the promise of the film and so it successfully delivers. However, the direction in which the film takes queer politics in the mainstream domain, which is not unusual, is that of reducing queerness to a mere difference. It’s not surprising then that we got to see no difference between heterosexual and queer relationships in the film. Aren’t same-sex friendships any different? Or does gender not matter at all in how relationships take shape? Queer love is not only about difference of orientation. And it’s a feminist act to build companionship with your women (and people of all other genders) folks, be it sexual or not. It has the capacity to question and redefine love and relationships.

You talk about marginalization by challenging the dominant. However, the idea of heterosexual marriage remains completely unquestioned here (because the entire film industry thrives on it), as if both can exist simultaneously and peacefully without any friction. Queerness is about breaking the gender binary and questioning the heteronorm, which the film completely fails to do.

The film gives us a series of beautiful and somewhat unconventional romantic scenes and soundtracks to feel the love in the air which they failed to develop in the plot. All we have is two romances paralleling the relationship that builds between Sumi and Shardul. Rather, more effort has been put into building their relationship than the ones they have with their romantic partners. We get to know nothing more about the partners other than their occupations, which nearly reduces them to cardboard characters. We only get to see glimpses of their charm as romantic interests. The characters in their families are more developed in comparison. Dwelling more into their romantic relationships would have given us more reasons to believe that Rimjhim actually wants to be a part of Sumi’s compromised heterosexual family and parent the child despite no legal rights of a parent.

It’s all about coming out

Why does coming out have to be central plot of all mainstream films on queerness, especially with dominant caste characters for whom coming out itself can lead to life threatening consequences? Queer stories are not all about coming out. That’s only a part of our journey that one may or may not choose to do, or may do it selectively. The only purpose of social acceptance that coming out can serve is also not dealt with extensively and needs more research.

For compromising gays and lesbians only!

The story of Badhaai Do could work only for upper-caste gays and lesbians who want to marry other cis-gendered people and have children. One of the pride parade’s slogans “Legalize adoption for gays and lesbians” also reinstates this. The exclusion of an entire umbrella of categories within the LGBTQIA+ community goes without saying, except for their obvious presence at the parade. The diversity of the community could have been shown through resocialization of the central characters into the queer community.

The compromised marriage works as a social ‘fix’ to the much larger problem of heteronormativity, leaving us with the only possibilities of parallel and linear relationships as the film portrays. It’s time that we open up to multiple narrative possibilities in queer relationships where one doesn’t have to stick to this linearity. Queer stories need more deep diving into queer lives by leaving the conventional heterosexual plot of attraction-‘love’-marriage-children behind. 

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Bhanu Priya is a PhD scholar in Disability Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi. She is a Bahujan queer woman, caregiver, and a person with mental illness and chronic pain. She does free writing to vent and sometimes be creative. Lately, she is exploring her interest in food, travel and sarees. In this highly individualized, consumer-economy that shapes youth cultures in Delhi, she finds solace in the idea of community living with her small group of friends whom she chooses to spend most of her time with.
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