Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is an ingenious title. It alludes to the attractive imagery playing in the beholder’s imagination as well as our assumptions on learning those eyes are hers and not his.
Same sex love isn’t a frequently broached topic in Hindi cinema. More often than not, it’s an exercise in caricature to score distasteful laughs. To that end, Shelly Chopra Dhar’s directorial debut is quite welcome. Her subtle hand and gently moving characters share no resemblance to Bollywood’s outlandish perception of homosexuals.
Sadly, Dhar doesn’t go beyond the subject line.
A demure lesbian romance that tests waters rather than root for same sex love, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a missed opportunity let down by writing (Dhar and Gazal Dhaliwal) so meek in its assertion, it defeats its purpose of awakening. What comes forth isn’t a revolution but lazy, hollow symbols showing little resistance and too much dependency. For all its love in the new age claims, the rom-com ultimately resorts to the age-old Bollywood formula where the hero does all the rescuing.
Rajkummar Rao, an out-of-inspiration playwright, bumps into Sonam Kapoor and falls for her at first sight. His infatuation prompts him to set a play in a small-town of Punjab, which eventually turns into a platform for Sonam to speak up about her sexual orientation to her conservative family.
The latter includes a toxic brother (Abhishek Duhan) who does nothing besides keeping tabs on her, a grandmother (Madhumalti Kapoor) who taunts her son’s love for cooking as zanana and believes a man should enter the kitchen only when he needs to change the gas cylinder and a father (Anil Kapoor), who is far too busy bonding with Rao’s caterer mom (Juhi Chawla) over tomato tricks to snoop into his daughter’s diary.
There are copious flashbacks of Sonam’s childhood to express her alienation and disenchantment around classmates and family, repeated giveaways in her drawings and diaries.
The simplistic, spoon-feeding nature of these manipulations would feel heartfelt if there was evidence of actual bonding between the father and daughter or even Sonam and her secret suitor as they connect in the most hasty, charmless, coy fashion. There’s no spark, chemistry or conversation. It’as though they decided to be with each other simply because there wasn’t much choice.
Dhar simply draws on Anil and Sonam Kapoor’s real-life relationship to communicate their obvious fondness but doesn’t give it any limbs in context of the uniqueness it poses.
Though inhabited by a cast high on winsome charm and natural talent, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga‘s guarded approach at bold matter means it goes delaying business and beating around the bush through a series of roundabout subplots that do nothing to enrich the experience.
The deal with Rao’s famous parents who he regularly avoids, the dull betting between Kapoor’s domestic help (Seema Pahwa, Brijendra Kala) and a budding flirtation between Kapoor and Juhi Chawla over their common love for cooking is deeply lacking in wit and weight.
This sort of token characterisation is particularly glaring when it comes to the core theme.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga wishes to lend itself as a significant voice of change and support towards the LGBT community, but its woefully apologetic tone regarding individual choices repeatedly negates it when characters — both traumatised and enlightened — spew things like, ‘Yeh janam se hi aise hai‘ or ‘I wish I was normal’.
Funny how a woman can fall in love with another woman and still need a man to ensure she gets her happy ending.
That’s normal enough for Bollywood.