'Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga' review: Anil and Sonam Kapoor's film is heartwarming
Written by transwoman writer Ghazal Dhaliwal, the film appears to be semi-autobiographical with Anil and Sonam Kapoor playing the central characters.
Bollywood has often been accused of not representing the LGBTQ community through its films. Sure there have been films which have had gay characters- but they have either been subjected to mockery or made the comic relief in the story. Neither has the community been represented in the films properly nor has there been any acceptance for them and their stories in cinema. Never normalised, a gay-track has for time immemorial been just there to provide the laughs. Which is why director Shelly Chopra Dhar's 'Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga' should be lauded, for it not only breaks several Bollywood cliches but also brings perhaps for the first time a same-sex story in mainstream cinema.
Playwriter Sahil Mirza(Rajkummar Rao) follows his muse Sweety Chaudhary(Sonam Kapoor) from Delhi to Moga, Punjab in search of a heartwarming, 'true-love wala' story for his next play. A chance encounter during play rehearsals, Sweety tells Sahil that how his story has no heart, and as Sahil helps Sweety to escape the wrath of her hyper-outraged brother- Sahil falls for her. Sahil reaches Moga to woo Sweety and to find a new story for his play but series of wrong identities and misconceptions occur and a life-altering secret is revealed to him. Sahil then sets out to convince Sweety's family about their daughter by staging an elaborate play. The play not just aims to break myths within a close-knit family but also of the conservative society at large as its cast sets out to invite people in the town to watch the play.
Written by transwoman writer Ghazal Dhaliwal, the film appears to be semi-autobiographical. For those who have followed Ghazal's journey or have watched the episode of 'Satyamev Jayate' where she made an appearance, they would naturally draw a whole lot of comparison between her personal journey and Sweety's journey. The film's setting in Punjab is a poignant aspect in the film. A story about same-sex relationship perhaps can be better accepted in an urban set- up but in a small town like Moga, it is a huge deal to accept that one of their own is different. Which is why setting the film in a small town is poignant to the story- where people may have the money and even the education but not always the liberal mindset.
At its core, the story is of course of Sweety and her struggle to get acceptability for her love but it is also a story of a father and a daughter. A single-parent, Balbir Chaudhary(Anil Kapoor) has raised his children right, and has been exceptionally close to his daughter yet has been unable to connect to her when she needed him the most. Perhaps one of the biggest wins for the film is Anil Kapoor's presence. As the amiable father who fails to understand his daughter's real issues, Kapoor's performance is pitch perfect. He lights up each of the scenes with his charm and wit.
Complimenting Kapoor are actors Rajkummar Rao, Juhi Chawla, and Abhishek Duhan. It is refreshing to see Rao play a quintessential Bollywood lover-boy in this film. Rao's tone is always on point and he doesn't disappoint even in this film. It's always good to see Juhi Chawla in films - she brings her vivacious charm to every role that she portrays and as the best friend to the hero, Chawla's scenes always bring a smile to your face. Look out for the scenes between her and Anil Kapoor- it surely will bring back memories of the 1990s.
The other actor who shines in the ensemble cast is Abhishek Duhan. Duhan impressed one and all last year with his performance in 'Pataakha' and here, as the overtly hyper, always-outraged brother, Duhan is impressive.
The film is centered around Sonam Kapoor, who delivers a restraint performannce as the shy, awkward, troubled Sweety. Sonam gets the character right on most occasions, but I wish she had worked a little harder on her dialogue delivery- which gets muted in the garb of being spoken softly. Playing her lover is Regina Cassandra, south-actress, who shows spark in her limited screentime.
While the film's story is its biggest draw- it isn't devoid of flaws. Since the film is a same-sex love story, I wish the writers had invested more time in narrating their love story. Regina appears in the second half only, and the sparks between the two women are minimal. Also, while the film is about two women, it is ultimately a man who helps these women to get approval from another man. Perhaps the story would have had a greater impact if the women in question had taken it upon themselves to get acceptance on their own.
Despite these flaws, 'Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga' is a step in the right direction. It not only brings a different love story into the mainstream cinema but narrates the story very well cushioned within the frame of a family entertainer. It has its moments, it has a way of slowly warming up to you and making you at least think (if not fully accept) of love in a completely new way.