The Supreme Court of India gave a landmark judgement regarding Section 377 on Sep 2018 lifting the 158-year-old archaic law that prohibited ‘unnatural offenses’ in terms of sexual intercourse against the order of nature of any man, woman or animal. Being highly subjective in its verbiage, Section 377 had become a weapon for anyone and everyone who was opposed to same-sex relationships and encouraged stigma towards the LGBTQ community. Although same-sex relationships are legal in India now, there is a wide cultural gap that would only be bridged over time. While the idea is acceptable to some, a majority of us are yet to wrap their head around the dynamics of a same-sex relationship.
Shelly Chopra Dhar’s directorial debut Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is one of the few films that looked promising with its cheeky title that paid homage to the classic song from 1942: A Love Story while subverting our conditioning that it was not a guy who is singing this song here, dreaming about a girl. This was a story that was different. A twenty-something Sweety Chaudhary has been attracted to girls since she was a teenager in school. She would dream about having a normal marriage with her best friend Gurminder until she sees her holding hands with a boy. That’s when she realises that she is not the same as others. Her truth is known only to her brother Bablu who is hellbent on “curing” her of her “malady”. Both of them hide this from their orthodox Punjabi family.
Years later, Sweety stumbles upon Sahil Mirza, a struggling playwright, who offers to help her when he sees a young man chasing her, only to learn later that it was her own brother. After a brief scuffle, Bablu goes back home when he learns that Sweety had returned to their hometown Moga. Sahil, however, is smitten and is now determined to meet Sweety and her family. As Bablu comes to learn of this, he is averse to the idea of his sister marrying into a Muslim family first but then realizes that this could be the best thing for her. Definitely better than the “other relationship” she was in. Meanwhile, Sweety meets Sahil and confides her truth to him. Sahil is shocked and heartbroken, but understands what she had been through and decides to help her come out to her family.
Chopra Dhar brings a stark message to the spotlight through elements of comedy and drama in the most Bollywood way possible. The narrative is overly simplistic in its treatment of the very complex emotion of coming to terms of one’s own sexuality, especially for a teenage girl who has been ostracized amongst her peers at school. This idea is a powerful one and would have been a great area to delve into from a film-maker’s perspective. Unfortunately, it was rushed away to make way for family drama. Sweety’s arc also suffers somewhat of a similar fate as she gets very little screen space as the central character and is mostly shown to be this diminutive girl who is always trying to say something but can’t. Her character is not delved into as well until the last act when everything is out in the open.
Coming to the more enjoyable parts, Anil Kapoor as Sweety’s boisterous Punjabi father Balbir Chaudhary is in his element and carries great comedic timing, especially with a wannabe actress chef called Chatro played by the forever adorable Juhi Chawla. Their scenes are a treat to watch. Rajkummar Rao as Sahil Mirza is as good as can be expected from a seasoned actor in an unchallenging role. Sonam Kapoor’s inherent innocence works for her but her character doesn’t feel consistent, party because of the lack of depth it has in its writing. Seema Pahwa as the family cook and Brijendra Kala as the family help are fun to watch as well.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a progressive narrative that wallows within the closet of the Bollywood formula.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a progressive narrative that wallows within the closet of the Bollywood formula. This story could have been far more layered without a generous dollop of family celebrations that interrupted the story intermittently with their song and dance routines. It comes with enough frills to undervalue its message. The only good thing to come out of this attempt would be that the masses would give it a shot, blissfully unaware of the theme. When they come out, there would hopefully be a little bit more of awareness and a little bit less of stigma.