It doesn’t happen very often in Bollywood that queer lives are engaged with complexities, so even when you approach a movie, your expectations are not high. But post the movie EK Ladki ko Dekha to Aisa Laga, I think we have one. Like many others in the past year, this movie reflects the power of a good script.
After watching this film, I can safely say that the time has come for us to hit the theatres for not the stars, but the writers.
Gazal Dhaliwal does brilliant work once again after the well-received Lipstick Under My Burkha and brings to us Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aaisa Laga which is carried with fair honesty by the fine leads and the supporting cast.
The film starts with a wedding where Sweety (Sonam Kapoor) finds the one that makes her feel butterflies in her stomach; the audience, however, is still left wondering who made it so.
Cut to a year later, Sweety is running from her elder brother when she crashes into Sahil Mirza (Rajkumar Rao), the struggling writer of a rich film producer-father who later goes on to become the lover-turned-friend-turned-saviour of Sweety in her unusual prem kahani.
The love story of Sweety and Kuhu has all the 90s Bollywood feels of ‘sacha waala pyaar’, starting from love at first sight at a wedding, followed by the mandatory Punjabi dancing, the ‘syapaa’ of getting caught by the brother, the sneaking away to meet the lover in the city, and aesthetic shots of the Hauz Khas fort that makes one smile and feel nostalgic about the days where potential love was not found through right swipes.
One of the good things about the film is that the writer does not, at any point, rush to put a spotlight on Sonam Kapoor’s character or her love story but patiently and thoughtfully explores her life and that of the people around her to understand it. The complexity of the family, too, is dealt with with sophisticated simplicity, and the narrative tries to get the audience to empathise with and recognise the different closets one gets shunted into as a result of hetero-patriarchy.
The daughter’s desire for another woman, or the father’s love for cooking, both being non-conforming to their social expectations; find their comfort in writing diaries and sniffing ‘hing-lehsun’, respectively, while they are away from the gaze of those in the family who ridicule them for their choices.
Through Sweety’s journey, the story takes us to the realities of queer lives; of loneliness, of shame, of fear, and also of hope.
In one of her childhood flashbacks, Sweety sees her brother beating an effeminate boy to ‘correct’ him and being scared about him finding out about her. In another, she finds herself mocked and ridiculed after her classmates see her sketch of two women in wedding dresses holding hands. And, in another, of her praying to be ‘cured’.
These moments come often in the film and address the discomfort, self-doubt, and fear of humiliation that we grow up with as queer people in hetero-normative social institutions. These realities have always been as significant in our lives as stories of potential love, and the fact that the film engages with both sincerely was a comfort to watch, making it much, much more than a love story.
As a mainstream Bollywood movie, it is indeed responsible and thoughtful storytelling and I can’t wait to see what Gazal writes next.