Sex moves from the city to the small town in the comedy Khandaani Shafakhana, starring Sonakshi Sinha and Varun Sharma. Sinha plays Baby Bedi, who inherits a sex clinic in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur from her deceased uncle. As she struggles to run the clinic, she has to thwart social stigma and ignorance about sex.
Co-produced by Sundial Pictures and T Series, Khandaani Shafakhana will be released on August 2. The screenplay is by Gautam Mehra, and Shilpi Dasgupta jumped on board for her first feature when she heard the story from him, she told Scroll.in.
“It was a sweet story of a woman coming of age, but what drew me was that the angle was quite far-out,” Dasgupta said. “Coming from a small town myself, I could immediately relate to the story of the girl, and I also know how people react to anything related to sex. There was a lot to say, a lot to laugh at and a lot to learn from while developing the film.”
For Mehra and Dasgupta, it was essential to have a female protagonist to examine the taboo around sex in India. “There was no other way of telling the story,” Dasgupta said. “In a society where women are not even allowed to voice their opinions or be recognised as equals, a woman steps into a profession like this – that is what makes a story. The protagonist couldn’t have been a man because the film is not about curing diseases, it’s about curing minds.”
Sinha was the “obvious choice” for the lead role. “I always wanted my protagonist to primarily be a good actress, it was not important if they were A-listers or not,” Dasgupta said. “Baby Bedi is someone who is very innocent and untouched, someone who never went beyond the set-up she was born and brought up in. This combination of naivete and practicality had to be brought out by the actress. Sonakshi just transformed herself from a star to Baby Bedi.”
The ensemble cast includes Varun Sharma (Fukrey) and veteran actress Nadira Babbar, whose last big-screen role was in 2016’s Ghayal Once Again. “Once I was sure I had Baby Bedi in Sonakshi and her brother in Varun, the face that came to my mind was Nadira Babbar,” Dasgupta said. “It was very exciting to work with her. We shot in the freezing cold of Amritsar, but she was quite a sport, and we had a lot of fun.”
The film also marks the acting debut of rapper Badshah, whose contribution to Bollywood has been limited to the mandatory dance number in mainstream productions. The actor plays a pop star who aids Baby Bedi in her mission to spread awareness about sex in her town.
“The moment he read this script, he said, this is a film that must be made, and he jumped aboard,” Dasgupta said. “He is a tremendous performer and naturally comfortable in front of the camera. It was a lot of fun working with him, and there were no hang-ups at all. Despite his fan following, he’s a damn cute Chandigarh boy.”
Khandaani Shafakhana calls itself a “sex film for the whole family”, a seeming oxymoron in a society that is famously coy about the subject. How did the makers strike a balance between spreading the message and making it family friendly?
“You have to see it to believe it,” Dasgupta explained. “It was tricky, because there’s a thin line between it becoming vulgar or being in the realm of acceptance. We kept the focus in mind that if I were to talk about this in my own family, how would I approach it?”
Like many sex-themed Hindi films, including Balak Palak (2013), Vicky Donor (2012), Badhaai Ho (2018) and Shubh Mangal Savdhan (2017), Khandaani Shafakhana tackles taboo subjects through the prism of humour.
“You want people to hear you out and there’s no better way to ensure that than through comedy,” Dasgupta observed. “If you hold people at gun-point or make the message too in-your-face, people may not listen. The idea is to make everyone laugh at themselves.”
The aim of the film is to bring sex out of the bedroom and into living-room discussions. “In our society, nobody talks about sex, and that gives birth to various other ills, from suppressed or repressed sexuality to violence to diseases, premature pregnancies, sex crimes – the list is endless,” she elaborated. “Despite this, several states in India ban sex education. People are refusing to have a straight dialogue on a subject that is fundamental to any country’s progress and health.”
Dasgupta grew up in Bhopal and studied at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. Her student project Mangali (2003) received a special mention at the National Film Awards. After working as an assistant director, she started the production company Walky Talkies in Mumbai, which makes commercials, corporate films and music videos.
The filmmaker said she has a “lot of projects brewing”, but is currently focusing all her attention on her debut. “It’s my first baby and needs to be handled with love,” she said.