Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga Movie Review: Anil Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor take lesbian love mainstream
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
Director: Shelly Chopra Dhar
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Juhi Chawla
The grandmother’s name is Gifty. Played memorably by Madhumalti Kapoor, this Mrs Chaudhury is quite the package: a film-loving matriarch who orders her son out of the kitchen, and tucks all objects of importance inside her cavernous blouse. The name exhibits an obvious mindset, one where women of the house are considered presents and trophies, objects of adornment as opposed to action. When Gifty’s son wants to marry off his daughter — named Sweety — his wishlist for a groom includes the word ‘gundeya,’ to imply toughness, as he wants a man who can take care of his girl.
Sweety has other ideas.
Watch Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga trailer:
Directed by debutant Shelley Chopra Dhar and co-written by her and Gazal Dhaliwal, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a progressive drama that intentionally binds itself within mainstream convention. It looks like yet another Punjab-based comedy about big weddings and eligible girls, but the trappings have been kept in place to comfort an easily offended audience while selling them on the big idea of accepting a same-sex relationship.
As you may imagine, this is an uphill climb in a country where homosexuality was decriminalised only last year, and is still widely regarded an aberration. This film’s syntax, however, is anything but radical. Instead, so preoccupied is this film with masala that the heroine’s father is intoxicated by the scent of kasoori methi.
Balbir Choudhury, an affluent manufacturer of undergarments, is called the ‘Mukesh Ambani of Moga,’ a small Punjabi town. He’s played by Anil Kapoor, the actor who unforgettably lost his head twenty five years ago, to the song giving this film its name. His daughter Sonam plays his on-screen child, Sweety, repurposing that great RD Burman song to remind us that it isn’t only boys who fall for girls.
The start is straightforward. It is hinted Sweety has a secret lover, with speculation that this might be a Muslim man, which would predictably lead to consternation. Here enters unsuccessful young playwright, Sahil Mirza, optimistically imagining himself to be the rumoured paramour. This is all shadow-boxing, first revealed through a clumsy childhood flashback and later by a pained Sweety herself, who tells Sahil about her lover. The film takes too long to get here, especially since you see the swerve coming. Only after the truth is out begins the true drama — featuring the staging of a drama, no less — and this is done with sensitivity and empathy, an ode to those who feel like others.
There is much self-awareness on display. The first song is the frequently remixed and overplayed Gur Nalon Ishq Mitha, and it’s a smart move to show a family letting their hair down to a song they — and we — would know. When Sahil casts a play with the Moga residents, he asks Balbir to play Sweety’s father, justifying it as a “real father-daughter connection.” The film itself adheres strictly to Hindi film tropes, from longing glimpses between Anil and the ever-entertaining Juhi Chawla, right down to a Babuji-Simran ‘go for it’ endorsement straight out of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge.
Anil Kapoor is in top form as the father challenged by extreme unfamiliarity, clearly marking his plight and his pain. He is never the cruel-dad cliché of yore, but finds his daughter’s lesbianism hard to swallow — which may be the reason he keeps drinking water. The dependable Rajkummar Rao is suitably over-the-top as the ‘filmi’ writer trying to be arty (and failing), both as person and artist. Juhi Chawla, playing an enthusiastic and talentless actress — a proud graduate of the plausibly named ‘Amarinder Singh School Of Acting And Emotion’ — is wonderfully warm.
Sonam Kapoor brings anguish to the lead role of Sweety, but there isn’t much personality to the part — we never get to see what she’s like, or even what she likes. Then again, this could be an attempt to universalise the character so people can identify more readily with this simple, sad girl. The bright-eyed object of her affections, Kuhu, played by Regina Cassandra, remains even more of a cipher.
This may be considered a film about the way parents love their children. Sahil’s mother reaches out to him via long-distance video calls — perhaps because its harder to fake a brave face while looking someone in the eye. She also gives the writer sterling advice: that to write one’s own truth.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekhi Toh Aisa Laga concedes that entertainment can only go so far, and that bigots will be bigots. When Sweety performs in Sahil’s play, we watch disgusted, intolerant audiences get up and leave. Yet I was struck by the image of an old man, sobbing as he leans on the empty bench in front of him, reserved for VIPs who have left. There will indeed be plenty who leave their seats unconvinced, but this film will make several people wonder — many of whom may never have considered the question. This could certainly have been a bolder, more explicit film, but sometimes cinema should work like a street play. Sometimes we need to preach beyond the choir.
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