Lala Kedarnath (Akshay Kumar) has four sisters of marriageable age. These sisters, played by Sadia Khateeb, Smrithi Srikanth, Deepika Khanna, and Sahejmeen Kaur, come with their own quirks. While Sadia is near-perfect, Smrithi has a dark complexion, Deepika is obese, and Sahejmeen is a tomboy. Going by the common parlance, barring the eldest, the rest aren’t “marriage material”. Kedar has promised his dying mother that he’ll only marry when he sees all four married off, and that puts his relationship with neighbour, friend, and childhood sweetheart, Sapna (Bhumi Pednekar), in jeopardy. How this chaat-seller, based in Delhi’s famous Chandni Chowk, whose speciality is gol-gappes, which ensure the customer will be pregnant with a son, goes about his mammoth task, forms the crux of the film. One way to look at director Aanand L. Rai’s films is to categorise them as examples of the cinema of the absurd. Because, whether intentionally or unintentionally, his films have absurdist elements. His last release, Atrangi Re, for example, talked about mental health but was set against the backdrop of a girl’s hallucinations about her own father, Tanu Weds Manu Returns reinforced the idea that men like to stray and look for a certain type. Zero talked about how even the disabled and people with less than average height need love too, but again, the way the message was conveyed wasn’t conventional. In Raksha Bandhan, he gives out an anti-dowry message. One can say that it’s absurd in this day and age to think of a scenario where a brother is struggling to get four of his sisters married. But the reality is that dowry deaths are an everyday phenomenon even now. So if an extremely loud, extremely melodramatic effort, full of every brother-sister trope you can think of, gets made to highlight it, should we ignore the message because it was painted on an absurdist canvas? Maybe what’s absurd is that we ask for and give dowry even today. Even as this is being written, some girl is getting abused somewhere for not bringing in enough dowry. The film doesn’t just highlight the problem, it offers a solution as well. It tells the girls to build a career first and then seek a compatible partner for themselves. It’s a freedom the vast majority of Indian girls don’t have even today. The thing is that Raksha Bandhan says all the right things, but in a hugely contrived manner. Your tear ducts are forcefully targeted every five minutes. In particular, in the second half, the emotional ambience gets so heavy it threatens to drown you out. Like a swimmer caught off guard in a suddenly swelling river, the viewer has no relief in sight. Maybe a non-linear approach would have helped. While the track between the sisters and Akshay Kumar has its moments, the romantic track between Bhumi Pednekar and Akshay could have been better written. For example, they could’ve been married and fighting because his world revolves around his sisters. Or at least she could have been shown helping him find a solution to his problems, as she’s the only friend he’s had since childhood. A childhood sweetheart would help out, right? They do share a certain chemistry, but we wish their romance was etched out in a better way.Technically, the film can’t be faulted. The set and production design, as well as VFX, are world-class, making you believe you’re actually at Chandni Chowk. The mayhem and madness of the place have been captured flawlessly. It’s all there minus the smell. The cinematography by K U Mohanan is spot on too. Aanand L Rai’s frames always look busy, and the same is the case here as well. The four girls, despite not sharing facial similarities like siblings mostly do, manage to convey the chemistry of close-knit sisters. Bhumi Pednekar’s role, as said earlier, isn’t as fleshed out as one would have wished for. She has her moment in the sun during her confrontational scene with Akshay and carries it off like the seasoned actor she is. The film rests squarely on Akshay Kumar’s able shoulders. He gives off the perfect elder brother vibes, despite the age difference he shares with his screen sisters, from the first and the last frame. And handles all the heavy-duty emotional scenes well too. Full marks to him for sincerity and commitment.
Trailer : Raksha Bandhan