The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 18-03-2023 | 01:45 pm
When the television show Balika Vadhu started airing in 2008, it had a social message at its heart and made it a point to reiterate it in every episode. Every episode of Balika Vadhu ended with a long quote that basically summarised why child marriage was a bad idea, and how the practice ruins the lives of the countless children who are pushed into it before they can even decipher what’s best for them. Balika Vadhu consistently repeated that the practice of child marriage was a product of patriarchy aimed at marginalising women and suppressing them even further, and was an offensive idea from the beginning.But, it seems like director Tarun Majumdar, who made the film Balika Badhu in 1976, was living in a bubble when he made a film that showed this practice as if it was the best thing that could happen to the institution of marriage. Balika Badhu has two teenage married couples who are both enjoying beautiful marriages, which in itself is quite unreal, so it seems like the director is trying to underline that perhaps marriages are only successful when kids are forced into them at a formative age, and they have no choice in the matter.The first couple here – Amal and Rajni, played by Sachin Pilgaonkar and Rajni Sharma, are shown as the central protagonists. If this was a film of teenagers falling in love, one could possibly see it as a cute story but the idea that these two kids are now married makes it uncomfortable. The lack of any course correction from the director’s lens makes it unbearable, as Majumdar pays no heed to the fact that how such a portrayal would impact his audience. He is so consumed by the love story of the children that he glosses over the boy trying to make out with his young wife, and her getting extremely repelled by his move. Majumdar set the story in the 1920s, thus trying to justify that this is a tale of another time but the lack of a critical lens here makes the film excessively problematic. It’s like watching Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat, and watching him glorifying the practice of jauhar as if it was something to be celebrated, instead of actually dissecting the practice. There are many uncomfortable social realities that exist around us, but movies aren’t supposed to celebrate them, they are supposed to critique them and examine their repercussions.Amal is tutored at home in the film, but his new wife doesn’t get an education, and we are asked to accept it at face value. For a while, you suspend your beliefs assuming that women going out to study must not be acceptable in the 1920s, but there too, the director shocks you when a dialogue casually implies that women in this universe are studying at university but our poor child bride will never get that chance.There’s another couple in the film – Chandra and Sharat, played by Kajri and Asrani – and we often see them stealing moments with each other which would have come across as adoable until we find out that Chandra, who is still a teenager, is pregnant. This might be the reality of women living in the 1920s but nothing justifies a filmmaker telling this story in the 1970s while completely ignoring the ills of the system that turned young girls into baby making machines, restricted them to their household, and ripped them off all their independence.The song ‘Bade Ache Lagte Hain’ is this film’s lasting legacy, and it is still one of the most popular songs that’s seen as a reminder of true love. Only if those celebrating their love with this song could see how it was used on a teenage married couple, would they know that the story being celebrated here is nothing to be proud of.