Film: Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
Starcast: Sonam Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Juhi Chawla, Abhishek Duhan and Regina Cassandra
Director: Shelly Chopra Dhar
Bollywood, it looks like, was waiting for the draconian Section 377 of the IPC to be struck down before it sprang a mainstream film like Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Lagafeaturing real and reel father-daughter duo Anil Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor upon us. Written by transwoman Gazal Dhaliwal who has been down the road (she also penned the dialogues), the film deals with a closet lesbian coming to terms with her sexuality and her conservative but rambunctious family.
ELKDTAL opens with Anil as Balbir Choudhary, giving younger actors a run, dancing to Ishq Mittha with his coy young daughter Sweety (Sonam). A big, fat Punjabi wedding sees the family eager to get Sonam hitched to potential grooms floating around. But Sonam bumps into Kuhu (Regina Cassandra), sweet smiles are exchanged, and unless you are living under the rock and have no idea what film you have gone for, the opening scenes establish what’s coming next.
Moving quickly, we are introduced to upcoming writer Sahil Mirza (Rajkummar Rao), trying to evade his successful father’s shadow and working with local playgroups while seeking out an ‘inspiration’. He bumps into Sonam at a theater rehearsal and next thing he is helping her run away from her brother Babloo (Abhishek Duhan).
The incident turns out to be Rajkummar’s ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ moment and he heads out in search of his ‘inspiration’ to the bylanes of Moga in Punjab where the next 1 hour 40 minutes of the film comes into the play. Accompanying him is aspiring actress Chhatro (Juhi Chawla) who is a caterer by profession.
We meet Sweety’s loving family; grandmother aka Beeji (Madhumati Kapoor) who is in love with veteran stars Dharmendra and Dev Anand, three hilarious house helps who love to bet on everything happening in the Choudhary home, Papaji Balbir who runs a successful business empire but wanted to be a chef. However, his mother advised him that “the kitchen isn’t for men”. There’s also Balbir’s son Veerji (Abhishek) who knows of his sister’s secret bimari.
Sonam is shown as a motherless child, which is reflected in her teenage years when she needed a mother to understand the emotional changes she was undergoing. So she makes her diary a friend and writes down the trials and tribulations she’s been undergoing for years – the pressure of not being able to express her sexuality, the desire to love and be loved by a woman.
The first half of the film is a joyride. Director Shelly Chopra Dhar keeps it light and breezy. Rajkummar, who traces his inspiration to Moga, is confused as Sonam’s Muslim boyfriend with whom she is keen to run away to the UK. In the first half, Juhi and Anil get the credit for keeping the masti alive. They will crack you up with their jokes, silly innuendos, and crazy chemistry. Their ease transports the film smoothly to a quick intermission in 60 minutes at which point Sonam’s family fixes her wedding with Rajkummar who laughs his head off when she tells him her secret – “Main ek ladki se pyaar karti hoon!”
The next 60 minutes, the film changes gear with Sonam revealing her sexual orientation to Rajkummar and for the first time confessing her love for Regina to someone. We learn how Sonam’s brother Abhishek from their teens has been trying to brush her bimari under the carpet hoping she will be fine one day. Rajkummar takes the matter in hand and convinces Anil and family to be a part of a play in their small town Moga presenting it as a business opportunity. He calls Regina to the city and casts her in the play helping Sonam to come out in open. But the hell breaks loose as Abhishek reveals Sonam’s secret to the family leaving Anil shattered.
The last 15 minutes of the film are beautiful. Sonam accepting her love for Regina in a tearful monologue, Anil’s reading his daughter’s traumatic growing up years in her dairy and Abhishek’s anger and izzat issue all coming at crossroads. Director Shelly shows how parents are not ready for the acceptance yet. The play is about Sonam and Regina. Two female lovers. The theater disrupts into abuse but in walks Anil, proud and understanding, hugging his daughter, releasing her from the closet she has locked herself in for all the years.
Rajkummar proves yet again why he is a director’s delight. He fits his role effortlessly. Anil, as the doting father with slyly romancing the infectious Juhi, is pure joy. The film is on his shoulders and he carries it gracefully. Juhi proves that no one does comedy like her. Regina is right for her part, has few words but a strong persona. Abhishek deserves special mention for his pitch-perfect performance.
But let’s give this to Sonam. Her role is limited. There should have been more scenes of her. But whatever she had, she did well. Her pain, anguish and confusion do the talking through her eyes. After Neerja, this is another sensitive performance, forget Veere De Wedding. The film’s bold script gives a strong message about gender identity and homosexuality.
ELKDTAL is progressive, like a whiff of fresh air and is all heart! We will go for 3 moons for the film and 1/2 more for Anil, who in this ensemble cast, shone the brightest in the lot.
Just, Let Love Be *3.5 moons