Khandaani Shafakhana contains all the elements for a comedy with a gender twist about the Indian tendency to pretend that sex happens to people from other countries but not to us. And yet, like the patients who frequent Unani doctor Tarachand’s sex clinic to boost their sagging spirits, the film never quite manages to get going.
It isn’t for lack of effort. There are moments when Shilpi Dasgupta’s Amritsar-set film, written by Gaurav Sharma, hits the sweet spot. Tarachand (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) bequeaths the clinic in which he conjures up libido-boosting solutions to his niece Baby (Sonakshi Sinha) rather to her than her brother Bhushit (Varun Sharma). There are conditions: Baby must keep the clinic running for six months and take care of the needs of the regular patients before she can sell the property.
Baby’s mother (Nadira Babbar) is suitably shocked, and declares that family honour is more important than a lucrative property deal – a rare specimen indeed. When Baby, a medical representative with a poor sales record, moves into the clinic, the neighbourhood traders give her dirty looks. Only the fresh lime soda seller (Priyansh Jora) approves, partly because he has been hired by lawyer Tagra (Annu Kapoor) to ensure that Baby sticks to the conditions of the will, and partly because the movie needs a romantic scene or two.
Baby too is initially embarrassed by her uncle’s patients and their descriptions of their problems. When she overcomes her bashfulness, she must deal with family melodrama about having brought dishonour to them. By now, with the pursuit of comedy long abandoned, Khandaani Shafakhana switches to selling the idea that Indians really need to change their attitudes towards sex education.
The 136-minute movie’s finest creation isn’t Baby or her wastrel brother, who spends all his time yammering away for no conceivable reason. Things look up when the rapper Gabru Ghatak, played by pop star Badshah in his first screen appearance, swaggers into view. In a deft subversion of the image of the Punjabi rapper as a sex symbol, the vividly-costumed Gabru Ghatak turns out to be one of Tarachand’s patients.
Badshah, playing an extension of himself, is to the movie what Tarachand’s hand-crafted powders is to his clients – a much-needed stimulant that makes everything right. It’s a mystery why the movie doesn’t make better use of Badshah’s services and treats him as nothing more than a possible answer to Baby’s problems.
There isn’t enough humour of the gentle or wicked variety across the sluggishly-paced film to communicate its larger themes. Although Baby gets numerous loving close-ups and is present in nearly every frame, the character doesn’t have the heft or kookiness to make her journey interesting. Baby has a tendency to reel off long-winded stories of uncertain provenance as part of her sales pitch, but they go nowhere, just like much of Khandaani Shafakhana.