The importance of predictability
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author talks about Sonam Kapoor-starrer Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga is the kind of film this column waits for. It marries the comfortable, predictable aesthetic of our commercial cinema with a romance that feels fresh. For Bollywood that has used queerness as but a footnote at best or crass humour at worst, this is a giant leap. With ELKDTAL, written by Gazal Dhaliwal (who also wrote the delightful Qarib Qarib Single which I loved), and directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar, the doors of big budget have finally opened, one hopes, for romances of all kinds.
The cleverness of ELKDTAL lies in its predictability. By using well-established cinematic tropes the makers cue to the audience what to expect next. This is intelligent writing for a lesbian romance film that is about acceptance, not just from the family and the audience within the film, but also the wider audience, given the reach Bollywood enjoys. The film’s familiarity means, the audience knows what’s going to happen next. How can this romance not be natural, if you already know what should happen next?
In an interview Gazal Dhaliwal, who is a trans woman, described watching movies as a child, as an out-of-body experience that helped escape her own reality. In perhaps the most moving scene of the entire film, a young Sweety (Sara Arjun in terrific form) bangs against a glass box inside which she feels trapped. Even in the midst of all the play-acting and singing and dancing, the importance of helping young girls struggling with their identities see themselves in Sweety is not lost on Gazal.
That this film is made in this manner, with songs and a completely mainstream cast, is also political and that message is not at all lost on us. I did however feel that at times the movie was veering more towards lightness than it should have, it ran the risk of becoming too low-stakes to the point where you don’t feel invested in any of the characters. I also found Sweety’s character arc uneven. Or was it Sonam Kapoor who was uneven in her performance? Perhaps it was a bit of both. Juhi Chawla has such incredible screen presence and maybe the best line in the film. She says, the problem with parents in our country is that they are too involved in their (adult) children’s lives and forget to have one themselves.
Regina Cassandra as Kuhu is super-confident and what a memorable role to mark her Bollywood debut. Her screen presence has always been impressive. I remember the small but highly memorable role she played in the 2005 romcom, Kanda Naal Mudhal. And recently, she was superb in the Telugu film Awe as well. I have also heard good things about her role in Silukkuvarpatti Singam (which I hope to watch as soon as it lands on one of these streaming sites). She is an exciting performer and I am here for her moment.