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Laapataa Ladies: Kiran Rao has nailed it!!

 Dr Ramandeep Mahal reviews 'Laapataa Ladies'

This is a movie you will really love. Director Kiran Rao’s debut film as a director, Dhobi Ghaat wasn’t a success, but Laapataa Ladies wraps itself around your heart. It is apparent from the trailer of Laapataa Ladies, that the film is about mistaken identities, about women getting mixed up and lost. But this movie is less about women being lost physically and more about women being lost metaphorically.

 

The film is set in the year 2001 in a fictional state of rural India called Nirmal Pradesh. The movie starts with a train ride and discussion in the train about dowry. Deepak (Sparsh Shrivastav), one of the main protagonists, who is taking his new bride to her sasural, has not accepted any dowry while another married couple travelling in the same general compartment, boast about the hefty dowry they have received. The conversation goes thus: “Dahej mei kitna mila?” (How much dowry did you receive?). A woman passenger remarks, “Dahej nahi liya toh ladke mein khot hogi” (There must be some flaw in the boy if you didn’t demand dowry). This conversation dwells upon the social narrative in force about dowry. Not accepting dowry is not considered a praiseworthy characteristic. Instead, it is believed that a flawed groom is not in a position to demand dowry.  While de-boarding the train, the identities of the two brides, Jaya and Phool, identically attired in their bridal sarees with veils covering their heads and eyes, get mixed up. So Jaya walks away with the sweet and simple Deepak while Phool finds herself alone on a strange platform late at night, wondering where ‘Deepu’ has gone. The identity mix-up of two newly married women on account of the long veils covering their faces may appear amusing to some but it is in actual fact a satire on how the patriarchal structure of Indian society, chains and controls women and their identity which is subjugated to men. 

 

Every frame comes alive with the minute attention to details. The beauty of the movie lies in the ensemble cast; they are all fresh faces, but they have managed to provide authenticity and credibility to the assigned roles. Their performances are so real that one forgets that they are characters acting a part. Jaya played by Pratibha Ratna de-boards at the wrong station to escape from her forced marriage with Pardeep (Bhaskar Jha), who word has it, has killed his first wife for dowry. On the other hand Phool (Nitanshi Goel) hides and takes refuge with local people at the railway station. The respective husbands played by Bhaskar Jha and Sparsh Shrivastava are completely opposite, the former being rooted in medieval values and the latter progressive in thought.

 

Director Kiran Rao narrates this tale from a compassionate, empathetic, feminist point of view. There is a sweetness running through every scene. The original story is by Biplav Goswami, the screenplay and dialogue by Sneha Desai and additional dialogue by Divyanidhi Sharma. Through the characters Phool and Jaya, the film reaches out the women to break free of the patriarchal shackles. Director Kiran Rao lays bare the perspective of the women behind the veil and through her characters urges women to become independent. Chhaya Kadam or Manju Mai who runs a tea stall at the railway station, is the main catalyst of change for Phool and stands out in a beautifully contoured cameo.  Phool learns to be independent while working at the tea stall with Manju Mai. Nitanshi Goel is lovely; her simple-minded soul brings out the protective instincts of the viewers. Sparsh Shrivastav, who plays Deepak, is incredibly amazing and true to the character. Ravi Kishan, who played Daroga Manoharji, is equally amazing and surprises the audience in both the serious and humorous scenes in the movie.  However, in Jaya’s character lies the true heart of film. She is given an unexpected chance to change her fate, which she grabs with both hands, but the initial image of a selfish and opportunistic woman soon morphs into a woman who endears herself to the viewers when she helps her adopted family and also is instrumental in finding Phool.

 

The music and songs are good, especially Arijit Singh and Shreya Ghoshal. The song that simply melts your heart is “Sajni Re” sung by Arijit Singh. Despite being low budget Laapataa Ladies stands out for its strong social message. The movie examines the societal gender roles, forcing the viewer to ponder over the difficulties women face while asserting themselves. As the movie moves towards the climax, the audience realises the power of education in molding the fate of these women. After a long time, I have seen a movie that is simple, clean and also sends out a much-needed message without exaggeration or hyperbole. I would rate this movie 8.5 out of 10 based on the stellar performances by the ensemble cast. Kudos to Kiran Rao for directing such a movie and showcasing our country so well.  This is the essence of feel-good cinema- sans glitz and glamour but filled with simplicity and innocence.

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Dr. Ramandeep Mahal is currently working as an Assistant Professor of English at Guru Nanak Khalsa College Yamunanagar. She received her Doctorate degree from Maharishi Markandeshwar Mullana Ambala in 2018. Her research interests include Anglo-American Literature, Indian Writing in English, African Literature. She is the author of more than twenty research papers.

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