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Krishnadev Yagnik’s Gujarati film Naadi Dosh (2022), which is currently playing in cinemas, tries hard to flaunt its progressive credentials by challenging the role of birth charts and astrological predictions in arranged marriages but ends up reinforcing the taboo on pre-marital sex and seems to endorse the idea that family honour is linked to a woman’s virginity.

A young woman named Riddhi (played by Janki Bodiwala) is physically and emotionally attracted to a young man called Kevin (played by Yash Soni). They work in the same office. She is desperate to have a conversation with him but cannot gather the courage to initiate one, so she trails him. She follows him into the elevator before and after work. She dresses up to catch his attention. She hopes and prays that he would ask her to join him for lunch. None of this happens, so her brother Kunal (played by Raunaq Kamdar) suggests puncturing the tyre of her own bike so that Kevin feels sorry for Riddhi and offers to drop her home in his car.

All of this is quite entertaining because the actors emote well and have good comic timing. The courtship turns into a marriage proposal soon after a couple of lifts and coffee dates. We even learn that Kevin’s father Kamlesh (played by Ashish Kakkad) is Riddhi’s boss. The families meet each other, and everything is hunky dory until Riddhi’s father Prashant (played by Prashant Barot) consults an astrologer to match the birth charts of the bride and groom.

A major obstacle derails the fast-moving love story. The astrologer detects naadi dosh, as a result of which Kevin will never be able to become a father. Prashant does not want his daughter to be deprived of motherhood, so he calls off the wedding. Kevin cannot believe that his father-in-law Prashant would ruin the happily-ever-after he had planned with Riddhi. He is of the opinion that nothing bad will happen, so Riddhi’s father should back off. For him, the flaw in the birth chart is only a technical detail that can be sorted out with jugaad.

Kevin is upset about the fact that the birth chart puts a question mark on his virility. He, like many people in our society, believe that sexual prowess is a big part of a man’s identity, so the inability to produce a child would be viewed as evidence of not being man enough. In a conversation with Kunal, Kevin reveals his insecurities as a man. He says that the birth chart cannot be true because he is so virile that he can impregnate even a stone let alone a woman.

This is where the problem arises. Kevin creates a fake pregnancy report to deceive Prashant. He wants to pressurize his father-in-law into saying yes to the marriage, so he uses the taboo on pre-marital sex to make Prashant believe that nobody would marry Riddhi after her honour is tainted. Kevin also wants his father-in-law to believe that the pregnancy report confirms his virility. What makes matters worse is that Kevin has not checked with Riddhi if she agrees with his plan. Kevin thinks that having Kunal’s approval is enough to go ahead with it.

It seems that Kevin, Prashant and Kunal missed out on actor Aamir Khan’s television show Satyamev Jayate when he invited feminist activist Kamla Bhasin as a guest. Bhasin said, “Toh main aaj saare Hindustan ko kehti hoon, ki kisi bhi ladki ki yoni mein aapki qaum ki izzat aapne rakhi kyun? Humne toh nahin rakhi wahaan par.” (Today, I ask all of India: Why have you kept your community’s honour in a girl’s vagina? We haven’t kept it there for sure.)

The film keeps Riddhi out of discussions about her sexual and reproductive choices when it is her body that is at the centre of the jugaad that Kevin has planned. He even holds her captive for a whole night and drops her at home in the morning to give the impression that he and Riddhi have had sex before marriage. If you think this is creepy, you are not the only one.

In fact, until this point, Riddhi and Kevin have not even discussed the possibility of having children. Kevin does not take into account how hurt Riddhi would be if she knew of his chat with her father. When she finds out, she is aghast not only at Kevin but also Prashant. She wonders how her father could have trusted a stranger’s word and not waited to ask Riddhi.

Her voice is stifled again. Prashant thinks that Riddhi should apologize to Kevin for her outburst because, after all, Kevin is her husband. He was being childish. It is not a big deal. Riddhi respects her father, so going against his wishes is out of question. Kevin and Riddhi do have a happily-ever-after but the film never questions the taboo on pre-marital sex and the expectations that it places on women. Whether Kevin is a virgin or not is of no concern to anyone at all because, apparently, boys will be boys. The hypocrisy in our society is glaring.

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