Intimacy and not pregnancy regarding women beyond a certain age, is what concerned director Amit Sharma enough to make Badhaai Ho, a film about a matriarch in a Delhi middle class family with two grown up sons who suddenly discovers she is pregnant.
The film is being lapped up by the audience. “I am amazed at the response. I am getting calls from everywhere. A friend called from London while watching ‘Badhaai Ho’. He said he felt he was watching it in Lucknow. The response of the audience is so intense and deep, it almost feels as though every Indian has adopted the film,” Sharma said.
A debate has opened up on late pregnancy, and Sharma is quick to clarify: “It isn’t as if I’m counselling couples to have children after the age of 50. As it is, there is a huge population surplus in our country. Why add to it? What we wanted to say in Badhaai Ho had more to with intimacy among couples beyond the socially permissible age.
“Why do we presume that married couples with grown up children never have sex? Well, the couple in my film did. And never mind if they couldn’t use a condom because none was available when they were attracted. The decision to keep the baby was theirs. It isn’t meant to be an endorsement of late pregnancy.”
It is interesting how Neena Gupta got the role of the impregnated mother. “We had gone to Tabuji for the role. At that time, we had a different script in mind and we wanted Tabu ma’am and Irrfan Khan sir. When she heard the script, she suggested Neenaji’s name for her character. Tabu felt, perhaps rightly, that she looked like a woman who can still have a child.
“Ayushmann Khurrana who was already on board, was a little wary of Neenaji’s casting. ‘Woh hot Mummy wali feeling aati hai’. But I am glad we went with Neenaji. A friend in Belgium who saw my film called to say he saw my mother (who passed away prematurely in a car accident) in Neenaji. And he said the grandmother Surekha Sikri was exactly like my grandmother.
“My grandmother was bazooka. Once she started firing, nothing could stop her.” Late pregnancies are nothing unfamiliar to Sharma.
“My great grandmother and grandmother were pregnant at the same time. And my two wonderful co-writers Akshat and Shantanu had seen the same happening in their family. In fact, they had written the story for an ad film in 2012 which never got made.”
Every actor in Badhaai Ho seems pre-destined to play his or her character, none more so than the underused Gajraj Rao who plays Neena’s husband. Sharma said: “Ayushmann jokingly suggested he should play both the father and son. It was Ayushmann who suggested Gajraj Rao’s name. I knew him from the time we worked together for Pradeep Sarkar. When he heard the script for ‘Badhaai Ho’, he advised we get a bigger star to play the role since it was a major part. But I insisted on him. He agreed. ‘Tu sambhaal lena (you handle it’, he requested.
Rationalising the huge emotional connection that the film has found among the audience, Sharma said: “After my first film ‘Tevar’, I wanted to make a film that I felt strongly about. I wanted to make a film about a late pregnancy. I shared the idea with Priti Shahani of Junglee Pictures, and coincidentally her writer was also working on the same idea.
“We decided to merge our projects. And though the writing was done entirely by my co-writers Akshat and Shantanu, we still decided to credit Jyoti Kapoor, the writer selected by Junglee Pictures for their film on late pregnancy.”
Sharma is grateful for the success and appreciation that has come the film’s way. “A film turns out well only when blessed by all involved. We worked with good vibes. We regretted the fact that we couldn’t shoot in the real apartment in Delhi. But we made sure that the set representing the Kaushiks’ residence was authentic. We wanted to be as honest as possible. I think that’s what has been appreciated the most.”