It may be a while before Bollywood comes up with a great queer love story, at least Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga has made a start, writes Deepa Gahlot
A mainstream film, with popular stars venturing into the LGBTQ space is cause for a hurrah, even if it is potholed with problems. Even if first time director Shelley Chopra Dhar wants to be politically correct and couch the message of acceptance of alternative sexuality in froth, there are a few areas on contention.
Sweety (Sonam Kapoor) is the Moga-based daughter of a garment tycoon Balbir Chaudhary (Anil Kapoor). When she is first seen, she is hiding out in a theatre, where she tells playwright Sahil Mirza (Rajkummar Rao), that his love story is not working because there is no “syappa” (conflict) in it. Then she grabs his hand and runs because she is being pursued by a guy, and there is enough syappa for Sahil to be smitten.
In an elaborate comedy of misunderstanding, Sweety’s brother Babloo (Abhishek Duhan) thinks Sahil is the Muslim man his sister is in love with, and tells on her to their father and grandmother (Madumalti Kapoor), who are not too happy about it. Sahil lands up in Moga with the chatty caterer of his drama company, Chatro (Juhi Chawla), in the belief that Sweety has also fallen for him.
Balbir tries to reason first with Sweety then with Sahil as to why an inter-religious marriage would not be a good idea. But what he does not know is that Sweety is in love with another girl—this is no spoiler, by now this plot twist is out. Sweety confides in Sahil, who first laughs—in his defence he is drunk—then offers to help her.
So far, the film is sweet, funny and sensitive (the screenplay is inspired by PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel In Distress and credit is duly given). How Sahil helps Sweety and Kuhu (Regina Cassandra) to come out and get not just her family, but the town to accept the romance, is implausible and heavy handed. It seems where there is syappa, melodrama follows.
Balbir Chaudhary is the “Mukesh Ambani of Moga” and probably employs half the town, so that reduces the area of discord considerably. Strangely, there is no mother in sight. Then, in a film that wants to be progressive and pro-women, it has two male knights for this damsel—her father and Sahil. Sweety is sensible enough to understand that she is different, and pours her heart out to her diary—left outside to be discovered at a convenient point—but does not have the courage to stand up to her brother, or at least attempt to fight her own battles. Why the “Daddy get me out of here” wailing? And why the 3 Idiots-ish parent bashing? Balbir wanted to be a chef but his mother believed men should go into the kitchen just to change the cylinder! Chatro wanted to be an actress, but her parents got her married. The romance between these two actually lights up the film and saves it from the dark cloud of Sweety’s moping and Babloo’s growling.
When Dhar was brave enough to subvert the boy-girl love story (she had Vidhu Vinod Chopra to back her), then why run off after just dipping a toe in the water? Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, could have been a stronger, sharper film—with that cast, anything was possible; and eventually is it the actors who life the film with their sincerity and charm—Anil Kapoor is brilliant and persuasive in every shade of emotion he gets to portray, and Juhi Chawla is a consistent scene-stealer. The younger actors are fine but not a patch on these two.
It may be a while before Bollywood comes up with a great queer love story, at least Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga has made a start.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
Directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Sonam Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Regina Cassandra and others
Rating: Three stars
By Deepa Gahlot
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best known entertainment journalists. A National Awardwinning film critic, Deepa has watched more movies and theatre than most people in the country. An author of several books on film and theatre, she has had an extremely successful run as head of theatre and film at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, during which she helped nurture several original productions. For Xyngr, Deepa Gahlot reviews theatre and cinema.