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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Khandaani Shafakhana, Review: Familial Clinic, Unfamiliar picnic

Khandaani Shafakhana, Review: Familial Clinic, Unfamiliar picnic

A title like that would suggest a medical practice that has been in the business for generations and garnered a formidable reputation of efficacy in treatment. Khandaani Shafakhana (Urdu for Familial Clinic) is not about any such practice. The subject is sex, in general, and the distressing conditions of erectile dysfunction and lack of libido in particular. Okay, so they have a misleading title. You could overlook this fact if the film had a no holds barred look at sexual disorders, with a narrative that could be palatable. Trouble is it isn’t.

In Hoshiarpur, a small town in Punjab, Hakeem (a traditional Indian doctor) Tarachand, alias Mamajee (maternal uncle) propagates sex education and offers Unani (an Indian line of treatment, probably inspired by ancient Greece; Greece is called Unan in Urdu) treatment, which usually works. Unimpressed and downright furious with him for degrading the exalted status of an honourable profession, the Hindustani Unani Medical College Board expels him, but he does not relent. In a strange quirk of fate, a man, who was under his treatment, shoots him dead, because the medication led to uncontrollable sexual drive, and the man was caught with another woman (not his wife), literally with his pants down, leading to his marriage being destroyed.

Nothing is known about his family, if he, indeed, had one, but Mamajee wills his premises to his niece Babita ‘Baby’ Bedi, who will have to run the clinic for six months, after which she will become the owner of the enterprise, as well as the premises. Baby is a Medical Representative, not a qualified doctor, so the conditional will, naming her as the beneficiary, is inexplicable. Advocate Tangra warns her that if she refuses to adhere to the condition, the clinic will go the Unani Medical Board.

Now Baby is about to lose her job due to poor performance, and the family has a huge loan to repay to her Chachajee (paternal uncle), who had lent them the money, with heavy interest, for the marriage of her sister. Uncle threatens to take away the outhouse in which they live, unless Baby marries the man of his choice, a rather unpleasant looking character. If she agrees, the suitor will clear the loan. Seeing a way out, she agrees to run the clinic, with the help of her griping brother, Bhooshit, who deputes for her at her job, while she attends to patients. The idea is to keep the ‘enterprise’ a secret from their mother, who would be scandalised to hell if she knew her daughter was treating men for sexual matters. But how long will such a secret remain one?

There is definite feeling of looking dated in Gautam (Teen Thay Bhai, Bittoo Boss) Mehra’s script. Sex is still a taboo subject in most Indian families, usually confined to abusive language, pornography or vulgar jokes. Yet, it has come a long way since the days of Hakeems (a rapidly diminishing tribe) and orthodox upbringings. In the days of yore, no self-respecting family would discuss sex at home, and if someone did bring up the subject, it would be quickly hushed up as ‘gandee baat’ (dirty talk). Not today, though. We have Akshay Kumar extolling the virtues of using sanitary napkins in mandatory screenings before most features. Feature films on sex education have been made in the 1970s and screened with entertainment tax exemption, being ‘predominantly educational’. In that context, Khandaani Shafakhana is at least 60 years too late.

It would appear that Mehra picked-up a story published in the first half of the 20th century and tried to soup up the treatment (pun intended) to 2018. His attempt at modernisation fails to click, for today’s men and women, especially in cities, towns and even small towns, have access to the Internet, and sex is no longer just a four-letter word. Hakeem Tarachand is obviously a name borrowed from an old, popular, Punjabi folk-song. What is interesting is the introduction of a pop-star, Gabru Ghaatak, a celebrity who wants to keep his treatment a secret, for, if revealed, it could destroy his fan-base. And, ironically, an endorsement from this iconic figure, Ghataak, who pronounces his name Ghattack, could turn the fortunes of the clinic, which is about to collapse, what with non-paying patients and social boycott. Tarachand was bad enough, but at least he was a man. A woman treating male sexual disorder symptoms is an outrage, an abomination, the opponents declare.

If I’ve got it right, this is director Shilpi Dasgupta’s feature film debut. A token allowance for newcomer notwithstanding, there is much left to be desired. Tarachand’s character is crucial to the story, and sadly, it the least developed. Oh, there are half-a-dozen flashbacks alright, including some imagined by Baby, but they tell you little about the man and his driving force (no pun intended). Also, chubby Bhooshit (I have a feeling that the name must be Bhooshan, but it is never clearly uttered; ditto Babita) has the laid-back, indolent persona, vocabulary and dialogue delivery that is quintessentially small-town in nature, yet he comes across as uni-dimensional. We are also introduced to a guy called Lemon Hero (really?), who is courtesy and good manners personified. That his role is to spy on Baby is a letdown of sorts. Lawyer Tangra seems to have little else to do, except administering Tarachand’s will, and the climactic courtroom scenes are a mix of normal proceedings and farce, with the judge acquitting himself rather poorly.

Sonakshi Sinha as Babita ‘Baby’ Bedi tries to look and behave like the small town girl she plays, with limited success. Two strands of hair on either side of her face and a half sneer are her stock-in-trade. Not a bad performance, just lacking the requisite vibrancy and lustre that could lift it to wuthering heights and blow you away. Badshah, real-life music video-star, as Gabru Ghaatak, plays almost himself, and his decision to act as a man plagued with erectile dysfunction, must be hailed as a brave one. Varun Sharma as Bhooshit Bedi remains in character, which is about all that is expected of him.

Annu Kapoor, as Tangra, is easily among the most confident of the actors. Priyanshu Jora (24: India, Tu Mera Hero) impresses as Lemon Hero, while Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Hakeem Tarachand, for once, doesn’t exude ennui and doesn’t chew-up his dialogue too much. Omnipresent Rajesh Sharma (he is there in every second film released during the last three years) as the Judge enjoys himself, which is what judges are not supposed to do, I aver. Forgive me for nursing a sneaking feeling that Nadira Zaheer Babbar was cast as the matriarch partly because of her girth. A well-established stage and screen artiste, she could have done with better dialogue, not the “looks as handsome as Raj Babbar” kind (Raj Babbar, an actor-turned politician, is her husband).  Rajiv Gupta as Chachaji is another uni-dimensional character, only interested in showering misery upon his late brother’s family, to the extent of taking possession, and driving them out, of their house. Arun Varma makes a competent prosecuting counsel.

Three stars appear in the song, ‘Shehar ki ladkee’: Diana Penty, Suniel Shetty and Raveena Tandon. Music is composed by Tanishk Bagchi, Rochak Kohli, Badshah and Payal Dev, and the lyrics written by Badshah, Tanishk Bagchi, Kumaar, Mellow D, Shabbir Ahmed Gautam G Sharma and Gurpreet Saini. Too many names, little to shout about. Cinematography by Rishi Punjabi is passable, while editing by Dev Rao Jadhav fails to keep the 136 minute proceedings from sagging once too often.

Actors show no consistency in pronouncing the Urdu words like Qhaandaanee Shafaaqhaanaa (phonetic approximation of the original Urdu coinage) correctly. Some credit must go to the makers for picking an unusual and bold script, and getting a UA Censor Certificate, allowing youngsters to watch the film, if accompanied by adults. That was a must, for what good is talking about sex (a refrain in the latter half of the film) and sex education, unless boys and girls in the age-group of 12-18 can benefit from a fictional filmy exercise? Yes, there have been two or three films on the stigmatised theme in the last ten years, but this is an unfamiliar take, especially the killing of Tarachand at the hands of a cured patient, and the pop star, who has dozens of skimpily clad oomphy belles cavorting to his tunes in every music video, suffering from lack of libido.

In the end, the film lies somewhere between a clinic and a picnic.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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