The low point of David Dhawan’s Raja Babu isn’t the film’s poorly-written main conflict between an educated shehar ki ladki being duped into marrying a ‘king-sized brat’ from the hinterland. It is the director’s choice immediately after the conflict, to help the audience cope with the sadness and melodrama, that is most interesting. The brat takes the humiliation inflicted by the city-bred girl on his parents as her zidd (stubbornness) and pursues her by singing a song that goes like ‘Aa…aa…ee…ooo… mera dil na todo‘. It was 1994, after all. Bollywood was still stuck somewhere between the old-school Lala ka karz and Farhan Akhtar’s revolutionary debut film.
How do you criticise a film that is pretty much the pinnacle of the old-school Bollywood of the 1990s. This was a time when conversations around stalking, invading a someone’s personal space, harassing a girl till she agreed to do the saat pheres with you – weren’t given due consideration. This is the time when revelations like ‘you’re an orphan’ were accompanied with thunder & rain. The broad strokes of Hindi cinema painted any educated girl as ghamandi (egotistical) and someone without the slightest of manners. The barely literate brat is a typical ‘Hindi film hero’ who cannot understand what the big deal is if he lied about his education, while trying to marry her. It was a different time, for sure.
Raja Babu‘s central conflict is also remarkably tone-deaf, in the way it goes about pressing an educated girl to settle down with an uneducated man, especially after he lied to her. Not just that, the girl is slapped by the brat’s mother, after she calls him bewakoof in a fit of rage after learning the truth. The girl’s father too, tries to change her mind by telling her about the loss of izzat associated with a wedding being called off. And what about the fact that his daughter will be marrying a no-good, duplicitous fool? Yeh sab toh chalta hai bhai!
These old-school sensibilities that dictated David Dhawan’s film, were something he used to operate in most of his other films too. Like Coolie No. 1, Saajan Chale Sasural, Judwaa, Hero No. 1 and Haseena Maan Jaayegi. Most of these films showed Govinda going to extreme lengths (even dressing up as a woman) to inappropriately touch other women. All this was made to look both ‘hilarious’ and ‘heroic’. And it’s a sensibility that Dhawan has even carried on to the films starring his own son, Varun Dhawan. Judwaa 2 showed a scene where Dhawan Jr’s character forcefully kisses Taapsee Pannu.
It’s the kind of sensibility that Bollywood can do without. It’s been almost 25 years since Raja Babu released, and a lot of time has passed for us to keep accommodating lazy, simplistic writing in mainstream Hindi films. We can do without the herogiri of the Raja Babus of the world.