At long last, Bollywood’s relationship with anything non-binary isn’t just about gay men. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a film directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar, starring Sonam Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla and Regina Cassandra. Most of the film is set in the town of Moga in Punjab, following a narrative of various people responding to the idea and reality of two women being in love with each other. The film has been written by Ghazal Dhaliwal and Shelly Chopra Dhar. Dhaliwal is a trans woman who penned some of her own experiences in the script.
As an audience member, one shouldn’t go in expecting a very realistic film. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a story that challenges the narrow perceptions of what ‘love’ should or shouldn’t be, without taking into account the horrific and violent backlash that is generated at the very mention of women being romantically involved with each other. Also of note, the film abstains from using the word ‘lesbian’. The film examines parent-child relationships, friendships, unrequited love, family dynamics, the fear of loss of reputation in a small town and Islamophobia.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga had the potential to be a groundbreaking story ABOUT women who like women. But it dedicated too much screen time to the response of the family (especially the father) and to Rajkummar Rao’s character, a playwright struggling to find inspiration, who is in love with a girl who will never love him back. The focus is on the heterosexual people and how they should feel about non-binary relationships. It also spends a little too much time on the now tired trope of ‘unnatural’ vs the ‘natural’.
At long last, Bollywood’s relationship with anything non-binary isn’t just about gay men.
As usual, Rajkummar Rao shines and is absolutely flawless in his portrayal of the resilient and blissfully-in-love playwright Sahil Mirza. Anil Kumar delivers on the emotional quotient as Sweety’s (played by Sonam Kapoor) well-meaning father. Sonam Kapoor makes an effort. It was disappointing to watch Juhi Chawla as Chatro (Sahil’s ally) reduced to only comic relief, where her main job is to deliver comic lines that weren’t really funny and then later become Anil Kapoor’s love interest. She deserved more than that. While venturing into various intersections of community, identity and sexuality, I was left wondering where is Sweety’s love interest Kuhu (played by Regina Cassandra) from? Why was there no mention of her life, where she was from and her struggles?
Apart from the above, the script and cinematography also needed more work. There was just too much that was being packed into two hours and flashbacks and dialogues that could have been delivered powerfully somehow missed the mark. The entire narrative comprised abrupt jumps from one segue to another. In a nutshell, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga was a beautiful story that was dampened by the more technical aspects of filmmaking.
That being said, it is an important contribution to the small shelf of Bollywood’s tryst with LGTBTQ rights. Kudos to writers Gazal Dhaliwal and Shelly Chopra Dhar from abstaining from outdated stereotypes, and simply focusing on asking audience members to think with an open mind and be more accepting. In addition, the film also addresses the notion of unrequited love. Indian men need to learn from Sahil Mirza’s character. Instead of massaging his hurt male ego, Sahil chose to turn his grief around and be a loyal friend to Sweety. This is hands down Bollywood’s healthiest portrayal of unrequited love.
Indian men need to learn from Sahil Mirza’s character.
Another positive aspect of the film is its opting to go outside the urban terrain when talking about same-sex relationships and how society responds to the latter. The climax of the film is the staging of a play in Moga about two women in love with each other and how one of them feels absolutely trapped. Many audience members start fuming and storm out. But there is a young girl and old man in the audience who are deeply affected by the play. The camera keeps switching back to them – the beauty of this moment made me wonder about the untold stories of the two audience members.
The positive ending (albeit completely unrealistic) is a small win for queer narratives in Indian popular culture. Those of us who identify as queer and non-binary will be able to connect with the overwhelming feeling of being trapped, alienated and dealing with extreme loneliness. While the pacing of the narrative may not have been great, it is a must watch just to experience a breath of fresh air in mainstream cinema. Hopefully, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga sets a precedent where the focus shifts from the heterosexual response to the non-binary to one where the focus is a story about people who defy normative ideals about love.
Featured image used for representation purpose only. Source: YouTube