Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga Hindi Movie Review
The movie starts with a wedding and you hope and pray that the whole movie is not going to be just another wedding themed story from Bollywood. There is a song and dance and haldi and mehendi and reception, and you see shiny happy people. But when you see Balbir Chowdhary
(a magnificent Anil Kapoor) going about the wedding interested in the food, and you see him dance, your eyes glaze over and you remember everything from Ram Lakhan to 1942 - A Love Story...
We then get to know Rajkummar Rao who plays Sahil Mirza, a playwright who wants to make a mark on his own instead of depending on his rich parents, rehearsing in the theatre and the effervescent Juhi Chawla who plays Chhatro who is their 'caterer' but who aspires to be an actor.
Yes, we have noticed the beautiful Sonam Kapoor at the wedding who reluctantly participates in the wedding events, and now she makes her way to the empty theater, obviously running away from something or someone. The meet cute between Sahil and Sweetie (she's Punjabi, and they have names like that!) is so well written, it deserves a star on it own. You will find yourself getting engaged in their instant chemistry and both Rajkummar Rao and Sonam Kapoor deserve kudos here. We panic with her and him as they both make a run for the train with an angry young lad chasing her.
But at home she looks like a completely different person, defeated and quiet. And this is where you begin to wonder what happened to the girl who spoke with a stranger and dragged him to the metro... She's hiding a secret which her brother has guessed and he is terrorising her to mend her ways because he won't have it. Also because society won't have it.
Sahil, on the other hand, is stuck on the girl he tried to rescue from her brother. Her brother? Sweetie's angry brother Babloo is played by this wonderful actor Abhishek Duhan (you saw him last in Pataakha and Sultan). He alarms you when he's chasing his sister in Delhi, and he is the voice of unreason. The voice of 'society', the antagonist in the story.
Sahil lands in the small town of Moga in Punjab, in search of the girl he tried to rescue. Of course the misunderstanding becomes deeper when Sweetie's family think she is in love with a Muslim lad. Predictably, her phone is destroyed by her brother, and she is imprisoned at home. Thanks to the happy ensemble cast of Brijendra Kala (man servant) and Seema Pahwa (kitchen help) and Sweetie's granny called Giftie (played by Madhumati Kapoor), Sahil meets Sweetie and yes! There is a fabulous romance between Sweetie's father and Chhatro (Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla). That deserves a star on its own.
A very drunk Sahil confesses his love to Sweetie and a very exasperated Sweetie confesses that she is in love with another, who happens to be a girl.
It is here that you decide it's okay for a man to rescue a girl or not. The story alas is predictable and Rajkummar Rao takes it upon himself to rescue her and out her gracefully not only to the family but the whole town. Now it's a tough world out there as India has just begun to accept Homosexuality legally. There are still many in the LGBTQ+ communities who don't come out to their families let alone to the whole village, so the plan in the film seems to be horrific.
But this is Bollywood, and nothing will go wrong as long as we deal with the subject with loads of sweet smiles and hugs from beautiful, rich people. Trouble with the story is that this 'outing' should have been private and personal, and they choose to make it a spectacle. Anil Kapoor confronts this outing in a great cinematic 'acceptance' montage. And young actors could learn from him. He's brilliant. And you have tears in the eyes as he realises how unfair and blindsided he has been to his daughter's anguish and loneliness. I wish there had been a mother who could have added another layer and a side to her childhood. Would a mother have guessed her daughter's sexuality, and would her reaction been different?
The visual of Sonam Kapoor in a glass box, asking to be let out is a very strong image to take home. The half star is earned for this visual. The film is by no means a great friend to the LGBTQ community. But it is a step in understanding the lifestyle differences we are just beginning to acknowledge in the society in India. As they say, 'Baby Steps.'