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Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga shows Bollywood is finally understanding sexuality

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It is not the task of Sonam Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao-starrer ‘Ek Ladki…’ to break all stereotypes about sexuality, but it has set the ball rolling.

How does one make a film with a queer love story in a post-377 India? The challenge is to make it nuanced (not tokenistic) and at the same time not invite the wrath of the ‘sanskar’ police and the CBFC.

Shelly Chopra Dhar’s film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga has a solution: Dilute the intensity, while keeping it simple for a mainstream audience.

Sonam Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao’s film comes at a time when Indian families are still grappling with the definition of queer, let alone accept that people in their homes have a choice about sexuality.

Shelly Chopra Dhar sees her protagonist Sweety Chaudhary from that angle. Her journey is simply told. She is a small town girl struggling with her identity. Something that hits closer to home than a rich NRI gay Fawad Khan in Kapoor & Sons (2016).

Sonam Kapoor as Sweety is your regular, next door, rich businessman’s daughter in town. Sonam Kapoor plays her usual searching-for-love role with no greater mastery as an actor than she did in films like Khoobsurat (2014), Delhi-6 (2009) and Aisha (2010). We have seen her play this character multiple times. But this time, it is not a man she is searching for, but a woman. She confesses this to her new friend, a theatre director called Sahil Mirza, played by Rajkummar Rao. Mirza admires her, perhaps even more. But the nuance with which Sweety negotiates these relationships and her own desires is the result of a brilliant scriptwriter.

Most Indians would remember screenplay writer Gazal Dhaliwal from an episode of Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate on gender and sexuality. Her story moved many. A transwoman herself, Dhaliwal brilliantly captures Sweety’s raw emotions. You feel for Sweety when she is in tears as a teenager because she can’t tell her crush of her feelings. Dhaliwal weaves lived experiences into a Bollywoodised script. However, it’s never exoticised.

Also read: Who is Bollywood’s modern man? Vicky Kaushal, Rajkummar Rao & Ayushmann Khurrana show

The idea of two women lovers if not new, is a less treaded plot for Bollywood. Kalki Koechlin’s cerebral palsy-affected lesbian woman in Margarita With A Straw (2014) and Madhuri Dixit’s Begum Para in Dedh Ishqiya (2014) saw new stories told about female sexuality, but in uncommon circumstances. It came close to home in Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996) where two daughter-in-laws in a middle-class family turn into lovers. Ek Ladki steers clear of intensity, while helping you sympathise with Sweety.

Anil Kapoor as Sweety’s father plays the Ambani of Punjab’s Moga, but he too, like his daughter, has a secret. He loves cooking but societal pressure makes him shy about it. He secretly adds kasuri methi to dal and watches cooking shows on the sly. Ek Ladki runs a smart parallel between Kapoor’s secret love for cooking and his daughter’s closeted sexuality. It adds dimension to an otherwise banal narrative of a father heartbroken by his daughter’s choices. Juhi Chawla’s act as Chatru, a middle-aged divorced woman, feels overbearing and overdone.

Strong support characters provide comic relief: A monkey cap-donning Bijendra Kala, a grandmother (Madhumalti Kapoor) who uses her cleavage as a pocket, and house workers who bet on Sweety’s love life. Their characters are well fleshed out and make you laugh with their antics.

However, one can only wonder how such a loving family remains clueless about the feelings of the apple of their eye. This sometimes feels jarring and unrealistic. Can parents be that foreign to their children’s feelings and behaviour?

Also read: Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika is your guide to becoming a good Bharatiya

One film can never truly showcase India’s queer community and neither is it their task to. However, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga does a surprisingly good work of setting the ball rolling for mainstream Hindi cinema. Here’s hoping, Bollywood carries the momentum.

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