Laapataa Ladies movie review: Kiran Rao’s delightful film delivers its message loud and clear

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By Sunil Chaudhary

Laapataa Ladies movie review: Kiran Rao’s delightful film delivers its message loud and clear

Laapataa Ladies movie review: Kiran Rao film is unapologetically message-y, but its strongly beating feminist heart overrides the broad brush strokes. Sometimes things need to be stated loud and clear

“Laapataa Ladies,” directed by Kiran Rao, presents a compelling narrative set against the backdrop of a fictional Nirmal Pradesh, where the bizarre incident of bride-swapping unravels layers of societal norms and gender roles. The film, steeped in feminist ethos, challenges the conventional portrayals of women, pushing the boundaries with its unapologetic message.

Laapata Ladies Movie Laapataa Ladies movie review: Kiran Rao’s delightful film delivers its message loud and clear

Rao cleverly employs the symbol of the ‘ghoonghat’ to explore themes of identity and autonomy, as her characters, Phool Kumari and Jaya, navigate through a series of misadventures that lead to self-discovery. The film critiques deeply ingrained patriarchal practices, while also injecting humor and wit into its storyline.

Despite its potential to lean into clichés, “Laapataa Ladies” maintains a fresh perspective with its ensemble of mostly new actors, steering clear of mainstream Bollywood’s star-driven narratives. The film’s strength lies in its ability to balance its message-driven intent with engaging storytelling, making it a must-watch for those seeking cinema with substance.

Kiran Rao’s “Laapataa Ladies” emerges as a thought-provoking piece that resonates with its audience, leaving an indelible mark with its portrayal of women finding their voice in a world that often tries to silence them. With a rating of 3.5 stars, this film is a testament to the power of cinema in championing the cause of feminism and individuality

When do women get lost? Only when they want to, because they are almost always closeted in someone’s sightline. Or, as it happens in Kiran Rao’s delightful second feature Laapataa Ladies, if they get entangled in a jaw-dropping case of bride-swapping, somewhere in the interiors of a fictional Nirmal Pradesh.

Just like the name of the place, the story is poori tarah kaalpanik, but most beats of Rao’s dripping-with-feminist-swag film are pointed stabs at uncomfortable truths, as valid today as in 2001, the year the film is set in. The era of the early mobile phones and trains which stop at every small station, makes a believable setting for this gently-biting satire, in which girls who are raised only to become wives, as well as the slightly more free-thinking ones, are both allowed to find their voice.

Rao uses the ghoonghat as a double-edged sword in her film, written by Biplab Goswami. Newlywed brides Phool Kumari (Goel) and Jaya (Ranta), their faces hidden under identical red chunris pulled way down their chins, find themselves in a tight spot: the first ends up stranded at a station, the second reaches the wrong ‘sasural’, much to all-round consternation. Phool tries desperately to remember the name of the husband’s village (‘kuch phool ke naam se shuru hota hai’); the more ‘padhi-likhi’ Jaya tries equally desperately to keep herself hidden, for reasons that are revealed as we go along. Both are lost. But are they really?

The proverbial daughter-sister-wife-mother sobriquet forces women to be faceless, whether they wear a ‘ghoonghat’ or not. I have memories of women in my family, especially the new ‘dulhans’, hidden neatly away inside their veils; this pernicious ‘tradition’ is still alive and kicking. Come hither, those who want lessons in patriarchy 101, and see how the ladies of the house, back in the day, learned how to work their way around it: faces completely covered in front of the ‘sasur’ and the ‘jeth’ (the older men), and lifted a little, when it comes to the ‘devar’, the younger brothers and male cousins of the husband. In this constant pull-and-push, women learned to ‘adjust’ and live a little.

“Biwi kho gayi,” chortles Manohar (Kishan), the cheerfully corrupt thana-in-charge where Phool’s devastated husband (Srivastava) fetches up to file a missing persons report. To show us the casual misogyny of the cops, the skewed power structures in places where the public expects a hearing, and the treatment of women in homes and outside, is all part of Rao’s plan. And though some situations feel a tad contrived, and some characters–the good-hearted trio at the station which becomes Phool’s support system is straight up filmi–are on the nose, you want to leap up and cheer when things go belly-up for the male jerks, and right for the lovely ladies.

The cast, mostly new faces, is perfect for this kind of film: it would have been ruined by recognisable stars. Aamir Khan, who’s also produced the film, playing the ‘dulha’? Please, no. Kishan does a great job of the cop who does the right thing, but I’m glad he wasn’t shown turning over a new leaf. That would have been a stretch. Also, Geeta Agarwal needs a new role: she’s now a fixture as Bollywood’s go-to mother. But both Goel, armed with her flowerlike innocence, and the more worldly-wise yet not-as-independent-as-she-would-like-to-be Ranta, who has the more difficult role to pull off, win the day.

The film doesn’t shy away from slipping in political jibes (‘sarkaar badli, gaaon ka naam bhi badla’), and ridiculing the truisms trotted out to keep women in check. ‘Pati bhi naya, joota bhi naya, koi bhi gadbaa jaata’, is a cheeky response to how the whole mix-up is the hapless bride’s fault– she should have recognised the groom by his shoes!

The film is unapologetically message-y, but its strongly beating feminist heart overrides the broad brush strokes. Sometimes things need to be stated loud and clear. At the end of it all, what’s lost is diffidence and delusion. What’s found is a sense of identity and self-worth. And I’m here for it.

Laapataa Ladies movie director: Kiran Rao
Laapataa Ladies movie cast: Sparsh Srivastava, Nitanshi Goel, Pratibha Ranta, Ravi Kishan, Chhaya Kadam, Durgesh Kumar, Satendra Soni, Bhaskar Jha, Geeta Agarwal
Laapataa Ladies movie rating: 3.5 stars

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