How to do one's own 'raksha' from Raksha Bandhan - well, that’s the question. Loud, regressive and with no grace notes, Raksha Bandhan is an unbearable, excruciating watch. In this film, women are waiting to be married off - either by Akshay Kumar or to him. Lala Kedarnath is a golgappa seller and a desperate “groom hunter” for his four younger sisters. No woman here is gainfully employed. Their consent or opinions don’t really matter. The conditioning is complete and all are hardwired to take “agni ke saat phere”. The sisters exist to wait for the brother to procure a prospective match! Kedarnath’s childhood sweetheart Sapna (Bhumi Pednekar) lives next door and keeps fretting about the long wait to the mandap too.
The fact that getting his four sisters married is going to be an uphill task is made amply clear, given that the only defining feature about each of the sisters are their physical attributes. The first one, Gayatri (Sadia Khateeb), is the Indian matrimonial ad prototype. A thin, fair and homely girl who smiles and blushes the moment her brother announces “shaadi pakki hai”. She doesn’t even enquire about the boy because that’s hardly of any consequence. As for the others - one is fat, one is dusky and the youngest is a tomboy.
The first half of the film is teeming with jokes made at their expense. The fat-shaming and colour-shaming is so unbelievably on the nose that one actually thinks probably a clever subversive plot twist is round the corner.
That writers like Himanshu Sharma and Kanika Dhillon will not really play it only for cheap laughs without a trick up their sleeves. But that is exactly what is done. The brother does it, the brother’s perennial fiancé does it, and even the textbook-perfect older sister does it, reducing the three young girls simply to their looks, which do not fit the societal expectations. The film and its makers wholeheartedly back this assault.
There is an elaborate scene where Akshay Kumar, after beating up the local boys who whistled at his sister, gets his hands on a mic and screams at a bewildered crowd that anyone who eve teases girls in the area will have to marry them. That scene, for its nauseating philosophy and complete disregard for women and their agency, is neither moving, nor powerful and not even funny.
The film wants to cater to the lowest common denominator by regurgitating stale old lines and jokes, and still fails to elicit a laugh. It tries to be preachy and have a conscience, but even as a social commentary it is terribly shallow and facile. And this is Raksha Bandhan’s biggest problem. It is neither a film about loving one's sisters, nor is it funny and it definitely doesn’t have the IQ to convey a social message. It keeps searching for its tonality till the very end, but the descent is very steep.
Taking on social evils like dowry and trying to gloss over its ugliness by only focusing on a brother’s plight is another way the film makes light of a grave issue. We get to know nothing of the mental and physical trauma that the women would have endured. The narrative suffers because of its stubbornness to include Akshay Kumar in every frame, leaving Bhumi and the other female actors as mere props. Director Anand L Rai pitches everything and everyone in this shrill territory with no room for nuance or subtlety. We all need raksha from this colossal mess.
Our rating: 1 Quint out of 5