In this week’s big Bollywood release Baabul, Amitabh Bachchan plays a father-in-law with a heart of gold. When his son Salman Khan is killed in a car accident, Bachchan becomes concerned about the future and the well-being of his bahu Rani Mukherjee, whose life’s turned upside down.
In the face of much opposition from his family and from society, Bachchan sets out to get Rani remarried with the intention of giving her a new lease of life. And the groom he picks is an old friend of hers, John Abraham, who’s loved her for years.
Let me be upfront and tell you exactly what I believe is the fundamental flaw of this film. Baabul wants to be taken seriously as a progressive film that tackles the prickly issue of widow remarriage.
It’s a film that claims to encourage women’s emancipation. But just take a closer look at the film’s story—it’s the men making all the important decisions. Amitabh Bachchan and John Abraham decide that Rani should be remarried. Nobody even thinks of asking Rani for her opinion on the matter.
Nobody pays any attention to the fact that another female member in the house, Hema Malini, is opposed to this marriage. Hello, what women’s emancipation are we talking about?
I must also confess that I find films like Baabul particularly disturbing because they seem to miss the larger point. Of course widow remarriage is an important and relevant issue, but come on, can we stop behaving like widowhood is similar to cancer. Like it’s a disease that needs to be cured, or healed.
The dialogue in this film made me cringe in embarrassment. More than once, Amitabh Bachchan says there’s no sunshine or colour in Rani’s life after her husband’s death. John Abraham—when he finds out that she’s become a widow—asks Bachchan, "how will she survive?"
While I understand that it’s all well-intended, won’t you agree that filmmakers need to grow up and tackle these issues with more maturity? Don’t you think Rani needs to decide whether she’d like to be remarried?
Whether her life’s really going to come to an end now? Also, guys, let her grieve, she’s lost her husband. She’ll need some time. Don’t jump in to find a ‘solution’ because there isn’t one.
Compared to his last film Baghbaan, director Ravi Chopra’s new one Baabul tends to take itself too seriously and in the process it fails to connect. As uncomfortable as I was with the outdated treatment he gave to Baghbaan, I could see exactly why it worked—because it was sincere. Baabul, I’m sorry to say, has this self-laudatory feel to it. It’s screaming out to be noticed, "look look, we’re tackling such a sensitive subject."
You know, films about widow remarriage have been made in Bollywood many times, and perhaps Raj Kapoor’s Prem Rog is one that best addressed the issue in the popular masala format of a Bollywood feature.
Now the thing is, if someone’s making a film on the same issue so many years later, shouldn’t we expect something new, something different, a fresh approach perhaps? Baabul offers nothing new.
It’s old wine in an old bottle, why should we be interested?
I won’t completely write off the film and say its entirely unwatchable, because that’s not the case. You might find your eyes welling up with tears in the film’s climax when Bachchan defends his decision at Rani’s marriage mandap.
But then, in all honesty that scene works not because its been written well, but because Bachchan is such a fine actor he can put life into poor material with his performance alone.
Of course it’s a pity poor Rani Mukherjee’s been wasted in a lifeless role like hers. So then there’s nothing to rave about Ravi Chopra’s Baabul, the film’s got good intentions yes, but alas that alone doesn’t make a good film!