Finally, a new film, Badhaai Ho, that shows Indian middle-aged parents having sex.
Let’s be honest. The trailer of Ayushmann Khurrana’s film Badhaai Ho made most of us uncomfortable. It deals with two issues that Indians prefer to lock up in a box than ever talk about: Parents having sex and late pregnancies.
See the trailer of Badhaai Ho and you can probably picture the scenario play out in your own neighbourhood: nosy neighbours, judgemental in-laws and embarrassed (and probably furious) children. Badhaai Ho, therefore, has a great potential of starting an uncomfortable conversation and forcing us to acknowledge that, yes, parents have sex. And, enjoy it too.
A large part of our collective discomfort arises from the fact that we still have trouble digesting the fact that our parents are people too. And that sex can be had without the intent of procreation or the hope for children. It isn’t only the aged couples we judge for having sex, but unmarried couples too, or just people indulging in any sexual activity with no strings attached. The middle-class diktat on the slightest public display of affection is: Don’t do it.
Indian parents go to various lengths to put up the pretence that they do not have sex, leaving their children emotionally unequipped to deal with the subject. The only outcome of this is awkward young adults.
In Badhaai Ho, the unease is obviously ageist too, which in the Indian context is amplified by the blueprint that society expects marriages to follow. Get married young, have children, settle into a moderately happy domestic bliss.
At one point in the trailer, Khurrana’s character, in bed with his girlfriend, asks, “Yeh bhi koi mummy-papa ke karne ki cheez hai?” The parents are representative of a generation whose common project in life— raising a family and maintaining a healthy relationship for effective co-parenting— is mostly over. So why should two 50-somethings turn to each other for romance or solace? Perhaps, it is more comfortable if they turn to knitting, reading newspapers or watching TV and providing only distant support to one another. Indians are encouraged to have relationships which are purely duty-bound. The expectation of celibacy after a particular age is a direct reflection of the fact that desires and individual needs are supposed to be ignored and is something to feel ashamed of. Your victory is in being able to supersede them. In the trailer of Badhaai Ho this is where the parents supposedly fail, and hence the ruckus.
The movie also provides the perfect opportunity to talk about older women. There is a generation of pre-menopausal or post-menopausal women whose agency, physical and mental health we have learnt to completely ignore and overlook. The movie can serve as a commentary on the way we approach mothers and motherhood, in general. Indian mothers are supposed to be asexual and pure creatures. Someone looking to fulfil personal desires—whether through her work or by being sexually active—must only do so at a heavy cost that brings displeasure from the family and removes her from the stature of the ‘ideal mother’. Studies have shown that the role of motherhood is deemed to be so important in a woman’s life that the suicide rate of married women in India drops by 50 per cent after she has a child.
Although in this particular case the pregnancy is an accident, Badhaai Ho can help highlight an important debate about late pregnancies. Women across the world, including India, are now choosing to have children at a later age. While the argument from the other side often is that it is ‘unnatural’ and ‘unfair’ to a child to have aged parents, many counter this by speaking of the mental and financial preparedness of older parents. Whatever may be your view on the subject- it is time we have a conversation about sex for pleasure and Badhaai Ho may just bring it to the Indian middle-class drawing-room.