‘Raksha Bandhan’ movie review: Akshay Kumar’s film is relevant but too loud 

Akshay Kumar may have started his career playing the quintessential Bollywood action hero, but in recent years, the man has very meticulously created an image of a man on a mission to change society and get rid of the ills that plague it. He has dealt with issues of menstrual hygiene and open defecation in his previous films. In his latest ‘Raksha Bandhan’ he is taking on the dowry system head-on- along with his four onscreen sisters.

Directed by Anand L Rai and written by Himanshu Sharma and Kanika Dhillon, ‘Raksha Bandhan’ reeks of a 1990s social melodrama. It almost remains so throughout. Akshay Kumar leads this very elaborate, slightly illogical film which at the onset makes every woman feel like a liability to her family.

Kumar plays Lala Kedarnath who runs a chat shop in Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. His gol gappas are popular especially among expecting mothers as one bite of it ensures the birth of a healthy son. Lala has four sisters, who we are repeatedly told are burdens to him. Even though he loves all four of them dearly, he only dreams of getting them all married as he had promised his mother on her death bed that he would only settle down in life once he gets all four married. His lady love Sapna (Bhumi Pednekar) grunts, yells and threatens him on a daily basis frustrated at waiting in the wings while Lala gets his sisters married one by one. 

Apart from the eldest Geeta, the rest are constantly taunted by Lala and the society at large for being fat, dark and for not being feminine enough. The man has to not only find suitable boys for his sisters but also gather the dowry money for each of them. Seems like a herculean task for a man who sells savouries for a living. While time is ticking on his relationship with Sapna, how Lala manages to get his sisters married forms the rest of the story.

Social issues are best dealt with comically. Raksha Bandhan is no different. Besides the script that tries to lighten the mood while dealing with something as serious as dowry, it also features Akshay Kumar a man who is known for his comic timing. Kumar as the hassled, dutiful older brother cake walks through his part but is also very loud and melodramatic in his depiction of his character.

Melodrama can easily be the middle name of ‘Raksha Bandhan’. It tries to project the relationship between siblings almost at a godly level. In a bid to get the required money for dowry, Lala is willing to mortgage his shop, sell his kidney and whatnot! For a greater part of the film, no one really asks the sisters what they want to do in life. All seem to be okay with the fact that their brother will pay a hefty amount to get them married off. Set in present times, it is rather bizarre to see these young women who are comfortable with their body type and skin and yet seem okay to the dowry system. 

Most characters cry at the drop of a hat. Akshay Kumar gets emotional in almost every other scene. When his sister’s marriage is fixed, he wells up. When he is angry with his ancestors he screams, cries and throws stones at their photos. Not just him, his sisters, his girlfriend – all have the waterworks ready at the drop of a hat. 

Certain characters are constantly shamed for their body type, and the colour of their skin and even when the characters turn a new leaf, they never apologise for being so obtuse with their criticism. It’s 2022 and any joke on skin colour and body type should not be accepted irrespective of the greater intent of the film. Writers really need to think hard while writing such scripts and be more imaginative with lines and situations. The old tropes of making fun of a fat girl and her diet are done and dusted. 

While the first half is cringe-worthy with all the melodrama and impractical storyline, the film redeems itself to a great extent in the second half when the film finally gets its voice and does its messaging clearly. By then, as an audience, you are more immune to loud acting that’s on display. Instead, you will find yourself cheering at some powerful lines on empowering the women instead of considering them as liabilities- lines that come very late in the film.

None of the performances is great. Akshay Kumar, who is known for comic timing hams throughout the film. So do the rest of the cast. Bhumi Pednekar, an otherwise powerful performer, has limited screen time and her character is not well written. She barely gets any scope to emote. Newcomer Sadia Khatib, who plays the eldest sister Geeta, shows some spark in her limited role. 

Despite the loud acting and glaring flaws, ‘Raksha Bandhan’ works. Simply because it has a very important message for its audience. One would think that the dowry system is not so much a part of society anymore but that is not true as a score of women are either thrown out or killed every year by their inlaws just because of greed for material things. 

The film though makes you think a bit. A story of women empowerment, it still needs a man to deliver the message to the audience. Surely the presence of five actresses was not enough for the makers. Also, Indian cinema has evolved leaps and bounds in the last few years, and so it seems odd that one has to resort to so much melodrama to drive home a relevant point. Would the film have less of an impact if the makers had cut down on the drama? ‘Raksha Bandhan’ releases in theatres on August 11.