Bawaal (2023)

Bawaal (2023)

A bewilderingly tone-deaf romcom that tries to redeem its terrible protagonist through minimal effort and... the Holocaust



Bulgaria, France
Comedy, Drama, History, Romance
Anjuman Saxena, Janhvi Kapoor, Manoj Pahwa
137 min


The word "bawaal" in Hindi means "commotion." Fun fact: in Tagalog, the similar-sounding word "bawal" means "forbidden," which is a reference to how much you should stay away from this movie.

What it's about

A popular but ill-mannered high school teacher books a European World War II trail for himself and his neglected wife in order to boost his reputation.

The take

Even before its characters get to Europe, Bawaal sets itself up as a truly ludicrous romantic comedy, completely unmoored from any common sense or internal logic, and with the most cartoonishly awful protagonist at its center. There isn't a single convincing story idea here, from the way Ajay's students learn from and idolize him despite his complete lack of teaching ability, to the way he treats his wife Nisha like dirt after learning she has epilepsy. Movies about scoundrels aren't unwelcome, but it feels as if there hasn't been any thought put into how Ajay views other people and the self-image he so desperately wants to protect—and even less thought seems to have been put into the hilariously shallow ways Ajay "earns" redemption by the end.

But then the characters get to Europe, and Bawaal inexplicably becomes a history lesson about the atrocities of World War II, which are briefly recreated in corny and at times tastelessly done fantasy sequences. The idea that these grown adults who have access to knowledge and pop culture are only now finding out that genocide is bad is nothing short of mind-numbing. Even worse is how Bawaal ignores every difficult and painful truth we've learned and continue to learn from World War II, and reduces so much suffering into a contrived moral lesson about how we should accept each other's flaws and learn to forgive. No matter the efforts of its lead actors or the quality of the production values on display, the film just can't overcome the bad taste it leaves in the mouth.

What stands out

Some of the lines of dialogue that these characters say in Bawaal's Europe scenes are so shockingly awful, they might single-handedly be the reason to hate-watch this movie with friends who have the same sense of humor as you. There's really no way to communicate how tasteless this film gets without vaguely spoiling the dialogue, but let's just say no romcom—no film in general, really—should be allowed to get away with earnestly comparing quarreling lovers to Hitler, or comparing marital problems to the genocide of Jewish people at Auschwitz. And as much as this might sound darkly funny to many people, trivializing the Holocaust like this is exactly what we want to avoid, especially in today's global climate.


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