Writer Gautam Mehra and director Shlipi Dasgupta are not defying science or propagating Unani medicine, but they do question the attitude of society at dealing with sexual problems
By Mayur Lookhar
Sex sells, but speaking about it is deemed immoral in a hypocritical society. While Indian cinema has pushed the envelope when it comes to capturing intimacy, there has been hardly any communication related to sex or sexual issues.
Filmmakers often take the humour route to bring their message across. Shoojit Sircar did that brilliantly with Vicky Donor , perhaps world’s first film on sperm donation, infertility. R.S Prasanna had a quirky take on impotence through the Tamil film Kalyana Samayal Saadham  and its Hindi remake Shubh Mangal Saavdhan . Now we have Shilpi Dasgupta’s Khandaani Shafakhana (familial clinic) that offers a cure against impotency, and other health related issues that people are not comfortable to talk about.
Tarachand [Kulbhushan Kharbanda] was a Hoshiarpur [Punjab] hakim [physician] using traditional Unani medicine to cure his patients. (Unani medicine is the pseudoscientific practice used in Perso-Arabic traditional medicine in Mughal India and in Muslim culture in South Asia and modern day Central Asia). Unfortunately, he is shot dead by his own patient. Not that his medicines failed, but the once impotent and now philandering halwai [confectioner] took out his frustration out on the poor hakim after his wife caught him cheating on her.
The Lahore-born Tarachand was a loner, abandoned by his siblings. As per his will, his property is to go his niece Baby Bedi [Sonakshi Sinha], but only after she successfully runs the sex clinic for six months. Struggling to keep her Medical Representative’s job, and with her greedy uncle [Rajiv Gupta] eyeing her house, Baby sees selling the sex clinic as the way out of her troubles. The local overzealous real estate agent [played by Varun Kashyap] has lined up a suitable buyer too. However, the big concern for Baby is how will she run the clinic for six months when she is not a qualified hakim. Absenteeism is ruled out as Tarachand’s lawyer Tagra [ Annu Kapoor] has deputed a watchdog Lemon Hero [Priyanshu Jora] around the clinic. Should Bedi fail, then as per Tarachand’s will, his clinic will then be taken over by the local Unani research centre. Bedi has her plate full of woes.
Baby is no miracle worker but she slowly overcomes all the hurdles. Khandaani Shafakhana is not a tussle between Ayurveda/Unani versus allopathy medicine. It is simply a story of the bachelorette Bedi finding her destiny in carrying forward her maternal uncle’s legacy.
Writer Gautam Mehra and director Shilpi Dasgupta are not defying science or propagating Unani medicine, but they do question the attitude of society at dealing with sexual problems The film urges you to rise about the taboos and open up about your problems. It condemns the thinking that women are not fit for certain jobs. Dasgupta, Mehra achieve their objective without being too preachy.
Punjabis are genetically strong, perceived as alpha males. When in Punjab, Bollywood has a history of stereotyping Punjabis as loud, dim wit but good souls. Credit to Dasgupta for most of her characters are not guilty of it. While India is changing, but women still face internal challenges to overcome career barriers. However, you do question the heightened resentment towards Baby Bedi, especially by Jiyalal and her other relatives.
The tight screenplay makes the first half very engaging, but Dasgupta loses her grip in the second half. The melodrama, especially Baby’s unabashed mobile marketing show could have been controlled. There is no drop in the intensity of the principal cast, but the screenplay just doesn’t grip you enough in the latter half.
Drama is integral to court room sequences and it’s justified in a quirky film. But Dasgupta does go a bit overboard. Thankfully, it takes the silly judge [played by Rajesh Sharma] to remind all, “ye mazak kuch zyada ho raha hain” [we’re getting carried away with the jokes]. Despite the jovial mood in the court, the over enthusiastic lawyers, the final verdict is derived using law and logic.
Sonakshi Sinha enjoyed a great debut with Dabangg (2010), but it’s been a difficult ride since. Sinha has bagged umpteen solo leads, but hasn’t reaped much success. Also, her earlier portrayal of Punjabi characters have been loud and not very convincing – Son of Sardaar (2012), Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi (2018). Irrespective of the box office, Sinha though can take heart from her measured performance in Khandaani Shafakhana. Sinha emotes the anxiety, vulnerability, fears of Bedi to a nicety. The sense of purpose keeps Baby level headed as she deals with each adversity calmly. Perhaps, not since Lootera  has the actress looked so comfortable, so natural in any act. What perhaps has also helped Sinha is that unlike her previous solo leads, there is no other dominant presence here. Sonakshi owns this film from the start to the end.
He was the doctor [Dr.Baldev Chadha] in Vicky Donor, and here Annu Kapoor’s donned the lawyer’s cape. What hasn’t changed though is Kapoor’s heavy Punjabi accent in both films. The only difference, Tagra’s amuses you with his Punjabi-accented English here. One can argue that it’s a little overbearing, but the veteran actor is very much in sync with his character.
Nadira Babbar is fairly competent as Baby Bedi’s mother. The veteran Kulbhushan Kharbanda does his little part well. It’s a little bizarre though that Tarachand took Baby under his wings when she was just around seven, eight. May be, one just accepts that little Baby was a curious child.
Varun Sharma is getting monotonous as the innocent, dimwit guy who wants the world to feel sorry for him because he has no job, no girl friend. While promoting his last release Arjun Patiala  on a comedy show recently, fellow actor and good friend Kriti Sanon revealed how in the past Sharma had moaned about not being able to have a girlfriend. Nothing’s changed as Sharma is still said to be single both on and off the screen.
With a character name like Bhooshit [Baby’s younger brother], and the uncool bird tail hairdo, Varun Sharma is unlikely to win any hearts. Going forward, Sharma should look to picking some versatile roles. The question though is, are they filmmakers who are ready to look beyond his comic actor image?
First time actor Priyanshu Jora plays a gentle and wise character. It’s tough to recollect his real character name, but imagine being teased as the Lemon Hero in your maiden film. Jora has the looks, but is a tad uncooked. Though 28, he looks more younger on the screen. And that makes for an odd pairing with Sinha. You look for chemistry but there is none.
And it’s a maiden stint as an actor for rapper Badshah. (Himesh Reshammiya, Sonu Nigam, Shaan! Haven’t we seen top singers commit hara-kiri before? ) Gabru Ghatack [Badshah] is a top Punjabi rapper, and also a secret customer of Tarachand. Funny in parts, but Badshah still has a long way to go as an actor. He also goes overboard with the gaudy clothes.
A dreary second half wears-off the early positive impact, but it’s the potent show by Sonakashi Sinha that prevents Khandaani Shafakhana from going into a state of erectile dysfunction. A few missing ingredients kill the dreams of any miracle pill, but Khandaani Shafakhana has enough dose to lift your mood.