Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao
Director: Shelly Chopra Dhar
With Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Shelly Chopra Dhar, debut director, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, and Fox Star Studio push the boundaries of commercial cinema giving us an unusual love story. The makers, in dressing it up with the bells and whistles usually reserved for mainstream films–namely stars, a lilting score and a happily ever after— serve us a family entertainer that fixes the spotlight on lesbian relationships, thus far swept under the carpet in Indian films.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (derived from the famous song in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 1942 A Love Story starring Anil Kapoor) has an ensemble comprising of mainstream stars--Sonam Kapoor, Juhi Chawla and of course, Anil Kapoor in key roles with Rajkummar Rao, the poster boy for middle–of-the-road-mainstream cinema, Brijendra Kala and Seema Pahwa lending the film the commercial heft that a taboo subject needs.
Sweetie (Sonam Kapoor), a young girl from Moga in Punjab predictably finds herself subjected to numerous matchmaking efforts by well-meaning family members, especially her brother Babloo. When Sahil Mirza (Rajkummar Rao) fetches up in her life as a probable suitor, one almost settles for a sweet small-town romcom, but what is served up instead is a love story with a difference. Inspired by a PG Wodehouse story ‘Damsel In Distress’ the film too involves a comedy of errors and Sweetie, as we find out is in love with not Sahil Mirza, but another woman.
Given the recent social churnings –a greater acceptance of the LGBTQ identity- Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga could not have come at a better time. The recent example of Kerala High Court’s mandate to reunite lesbian lovers S Sreeja and B Aruna who had been separated by their parents, (besides the abolition of Section 377) is an indication that the film is in tandem with India’s new and evolving social order.
It would be pertinent to point out that while films about gay relationships and their travails and tribulations have come out of the closet in significantly over the past few years, the same can’t be said about lesbian relationships. We’ve had a clutch of Onir’s films My Brother Nikhil and I Am or Karan Johar’s short-film from Bombay Talkies and Shakun Batra’s finely crafted Kapoor & Sons with Fawad Khan in the lead.
With regards to lesbian relationships though, the last significant film release was Fire in 1998 (a sleaze-fest film that went by the name Girlfriend does not qualify) which provoked rather violent reactions and bans. It is therefore pertinent to note that a film on the subject of female relationships is now running in theatres after all of 21 years!
In this particular instance the film-makers striving for a wider viewership have kept away from a disruptive, arthouse cinema treatment, steering absolutely clear of any explicit content.
Ghazal Dhaliwal, the co-writer of the film (story and screenplay), keeps it simple, intercutting the idyllic beauty of Sweetie’s world with hints of fear and confusion that she harbours within. That Dhaliwal has a story of her own—she was born a male and underwent a sex reassignment surgery—explains the sensitivity with which the questions of identity and what is gender-sexual normalcy, are addressed. Sweetie and her lover Kuhu (Regina Cassandra) are carefully drafted in the story without caricaturisation, a rarity in mainstream movies.
Sonam Kapoor, the film’s lead, a proud feminist is certainly walking the talk in her choice of films. Kapoor teams up with father Anil Kapoor for the first time in this film and the two jam well-she the quieter sober presence to his gregarious persona. Kapoor Senior, of course, charming and adorable in turns, brings the much-needed gentleness to a part that often ends of up being a stock character—the father of the bride. No doubt he ends up stealing the thunder from the rest of the stellar cast. Rao, as always, is dependable while Abhishek Duhan as Babloo is a young actor to watch out for (he was very good in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Pataakha as well). Newbie Regina Cassandra makes a confident debut in a smaller role. Juhi Chawla is in top form too as is Seema Pahwa, who for once is not playing the cantankerous mother in this one.
The director (Dhar) works well with the material at hand drawing fine performances from the actors. What is particularly commendable is that she keeps the story firmly in check, never allowing things to get out of hand or letting the narrative slip into dark recesses which would mar its chances of being acceptable to the family audience.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, if embraced by the audience could prove to be a turning point both in Indian cinema and society by opening up forbidden conversations about the female identity and feminism in the post-modern era. It could well be a definitive step forward in women’s emancipation story.