Life in Gurgaon

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga Movie Review: Anil Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor take lesbian love mainstream

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Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga 
Director: Shelly Chopra Dhar
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Juhi Chawla
Rating: 3.5/5

The grandmother’s name is Gifty. Played memorably by Madhumalti Kapoor, this Mrs. Chaudhury is quite the package: a film-loving matriarch who orders her son out of the kitchen and tucks all objects of importance inside her cavernous blouse. The name exhibits an obvious mindset, one where women of the house are considered presents and trophies, objects of adornment as opposed to action. When Gifty’s son wants to marry off his daughter — named Sweety — his wishlist for a groom includes the word ‘gundeya,’ to imply toughness, as he wants a man who can take care of his girl.

Directed by debutant Shelley Chopra Dhar and co-written by her and Gazal Dhaliwal, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a progressive drama that intentionally binds itself within the mainstream convention. It looks like yet another Punjab-based comedy about big weddings and eligible girls, but the trappings have been kept in place to comfort an easily offended audience while selling them on the big idea of accepting a same-sex relationship.

As you may imagine, this is an uphill climb in a country where homosexuality was decriminalized only last year and is still widely regarded an aberration. This film’s syntax, however, is anything but radical. Instead, so preoccupied is this film with masala that the heroine’s father is intoxicated by the scent of kasoori methi.

Balbir Choudhury, an affluent manufacturer of undergarments, is called the ‘Mukesh Ambani of Moga,’ a small Punjabi town. He’s played by Anil Kapoor, the actor who unforgettably lost his head twenty-five years ago, to the song giving this film its name. His daughter Sonam plays his on-screen child, Sweety, repurposing that great RD Burman song to remind us that it isn’t only boys who fall for girls.

The start is straightforward. It is hinted Sweety has a secret lover, with speculation that this might be a Muslim man, which would predictably lead to consternation. Here enters unsuccessful young playwright, Sahil Mirza, optimistically imagining himself to be the rumored paramour. This is all shadow-boxing, first revealed through a clumsy childhood flashback and later by a pained Sweety herself, who tells Sahil about her lover. The film takes too long to get here, especially since you see the swerve coming. Only after the truth out begins the true drama — featuring the staging of a drama, no less — and this is done with sensitivity and empathy, an ode to those who feel like others.