The nearly moribund Bollywood family drama genre is set for a revival with “Raksha Bandhan,” directed by Aanand. L. Rai (“Atrangi Re”) and starring Akshay Kumar (“Sooryavanshi”) and Bhumi Pednekar (“Badhaai Do”).
Films revolving around the family unit, which used to be a staple in Bollywood, peaked with blockbuster “Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!” (1994), starring Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit, and made a brief reappearance with “Badhaai Ho” (2018) featuring Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao and Ayushmann Khurrana. “Raksha Bandhan” hopes to emulate the heydays of the genre.
“In ‘Raksha Bandhan’ there is a lot of hunger — hunger to come out with Indian values, hunger to depict the culture, hunger to talk about the bonding, the relationships, which are there with us, we’ve not gone insensitive towards them, but somehow they’ve taken a back seat, we don’t talk about it,” Rai told Variety. “Let me bring all those emotions to the forefront, which we have unknowingly sidelined.”
Set in the bustling Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi, the film follows Kumar, who runs a street food shop, the third generation of his family to do so. His primary concern is getting his four sisters married, except that 2022 India is still beset with the problem of dowry, where the bride’s family is expected to provide a substantial amount of cash and gifts to the groom, despite the practice being illegal.
“Dowry is a big problem in India, and many other places also,” Kumar told Variety. “The best part about the film is, it not only talks about the problem, it also talks about the solution.”
Rai adds that there are two Indias today, with different mindsets. In the country’s metros, daughters of affluent fathers consider whatever their families give grooms as gifts, while in the interior of the country, parents who can ill afford dowries have to go through it anyway, because it is a ritual and a tradition.
Pednekar plays Kumar’s childhood sweetheart who has to wait to get married as Kumar’s priority is his sisters’ weddings.
“Cinema is a very powerful tool to reach across to a mass audience. [Akshay Kumar] and I have successfully done that enough our collaboration ‘Toilet: A Love Story’ and with ‘Raksha Bandhan’ we are hoping the same thing,” Pednekar told Variety. “Here you have an Aanand. L. Rai world which is colorful, full of love, as Indian as it gets, as close to our culture as it gets. Through all that entertainment, we hope to leave behind a message and shed light on a predominant problem within our country.”
Kumar added, “This is not a preachy film. It’s very commercial cinema, which has five songs. It has lots of humor. And it teaches you about family values.”
Rai said, “At one time, we had big joint families – now it has become aspirational. We have gone very nuclear in that way. Most of the metro couples have one kid, so they don’t know what was a joint family. So for them when they see a film with a lot of characters, a lot of family members, it’s beautiful. I’m trying to revive that old sentiment of living together.”
Produced by Zee Studios, Colour Yellow Productions and Cape of Good Films, “Raksha Bandhan” will release theatrically on Aug. 11, the day of the Indian festival Raksha Bandhan, which celebrates the brother-sister relationship. It opens against Aamir Khan’s “Laal Singh Chaddha,” the Indian adaptation of “Forrest Gump.” Rai will decide on his next project after the release.
Kumar has several films lined up for release including an untitled police drama, which was shot in the U.K. in late 2021, which will debut on a streaming platform; archaeology and mythology focused “Ram Setu,” which is set for an Oct. 24 release, during the Diwali holiday frame; satire “OMG 2,” a sequel to hit 2012 film “OMG – Oh My God!”; and “Selfiee,” alongside Emraan Hashmi, a remake of hit 2019 Malayalam-language film “Driving License.” “Gorkha,” co-produced by Rai, is in the works and an untitled film about a coal mine hero is currently filming in the U.K.
Pednekar has comedy “Govinda Aala Re,” investigative journalism drama “Bhakshak,” socio-political drama “Bheed” and thriller “Afwaah” coming up.
Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Aanand L. Rai Plan Revival of Bollywood Family Drama With ‘Raksha Bandhan’ (EXCLUSIVE)