Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (“How I felt when I saw that girl”) is a triumphant love story about a woman who loves another woman, family, and setting love free.
Written by Gazal Dhaliwal and directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar, the film follows Sonam Kapoor as Sweety Chaudhary, a young Punjabi girl hiding a secret. Sweety’s love is Kuhu (Regina Cassandra), a woman. The only person who knows is her disapproving brother Babloo (Abishek Duhan) who keeps a close eye on her actions, fearful of the community finding out the truth.
When she meets Sahil Mirza (Rajkummar Rao), Babloo uses it as an opportunity to tell their father Balbir (Anil Kapoor) who owns a garment factory but wants to be a chef, and grandmother Beeji (Madhumalti Kapoor) who won’t let her son into the kitchen, that Sweety is having an affair with a Muslim man. A series of moments leads Balbir to tell Sahil that he cannot have a relationship with Sweety. Sahil, now knowing the truth tells Balbir he will stay away.
Before Sahil can leave the city, he finds out Sweety wants to talk to him. They meet at a guradwara where Sweety tells Sahil about her childhood through a series of gut-wrenching flashbacks. They leave with Sahil telling Sweety he’ll try to figure out a way to help her.
Elsewhere, a conversation with Juhi Chawla’s divorced Chatro leads Balbir to change his mind. He arranges a dinner to announce he supports Sweety and Sahil’s supposed relationship. So the movie begins to move towards its incredible end. Sahil writes a play all about Sweety’s character and Kuhu’s character portraying lovers to premiere Balbir’s new garment designs! Of course no one else knows that the play is about Sweety’s experiences. Until Babloo comes back from a business trip and reveals all.
Still Sweety asserts herself and states that the play will go on, and it does. As people leave the audience scene after scene, Balbir finally shows up and speaks to Sweety. He finally supports her and Kuhu,and goes onto start his own catering company too!
Ek Ladki is a truly courageous film, addressing a controversial subject matter with a deft hand. Dhaliwal masterfully layers most of the social issues within the Chaudhary family so nothing feels preachy or crowded. Chatro’s comments about her divorce highlights another social issue efficiently. She states that Indian parents need to live their lives and let their kids live their own. Plus they should marry regardless of caste, religion, or class, a point serving as a soft rebuke to Balbir and the audience too.
The script allows the characters and audience little breathers in between the intense emotional moments. One example is Balbir joking about Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan both marrying Hindu women. Plus it doesn’t beat the audience over the head with lessons. Only once does it directly appeal to the audience when Sahil asks the in film audience to feel the story in our hearts.
Fortunately, the superb cast helps us do just that. Beeji and Veerji are portrayed by Madhumalti Kapoor and Abishek Duhan in a realistic manner. Beeji is a force of nature set in her ways but shows that even the elder matriarch of a family can slowly change. Bablo is still a jerk at the end of the film and does not support his sister, but that fits his stubborn character who believes he is protecting his sister and family from her disease.
Anil Kapoor expertly executes all of his scenes, especially the emotional beats. One spectacular section is the montage of his reading Sweety’s journals after they fight. No dialogue needed. He emotes everything we need to feel his anguish. His comedic timing is effortlessly matched by Juhi Chawla. Their chemistry alone propels Balbir and Chatro’s burgeoning romance. Chawla is just as spectacular in her role as comedic Chatro, support of Sahil, and her own quest to act.
Rajkummar Rao’s Sahil is fantastic. The film subverts the usual trope of hero chasing after the heroine. He moves from pursuer to confidant after Sweety tells him her story. To see a straight men support two women who love each other is entirely refreshing. Though he drunkenly laughs at Sweety’s confession, the moment he wakes up, he realizes his mistake. Sahil spends literally the rest of the film supporting her, brings Kuhu back from London to reunite her with Sweety, and develops a friendship with her too! Plus he never once states that Sweety led him on which happens in real life and in films all the time.
Regina Cassandra’s introduction to Bollywood proper is not wasted here. Her Kuhu is assertive and fully aware of her sexuality. She’s got the strongest gaydar I have ever seen in a character. Literally after a minute of talking to Sweety, she’s pinged that Sweety is into her and not her brother. For film-goers of all ages, Kuhu’s confidence that she and Sweety are normal just like everyone else is radically important.
Finally, Sonam Kapoor continues to grow as an actress in each and every film. I absolutely loved her take on a quiet, semi closed-off, hurt, really traumatized, closeted woman. A woman simultaneously full of life and love who blossoms in the second half of the film. Sonam’s Sweety becomes unafraid to stand up for all the young kids who suffered like her and Kuhu. Sweety is possibly the best type of character to introduce this topic. Her love and dedication to her family is far more palatable compared to a rebellious “Westernized” woman. Though the film does address the incorrect belief that gayness is a Western implant.
Setting Love Free
Ek Ladki succeeds because it is a true Bollywood film. There’s music, a wedding, great costuming and scenery, food, family, and even some physical fighting. But there’s no shying away from showing actual romance between Sweety and Kuhu. They get a romantic montage like all couples would showing their friendship, love, intimacy, and support including an intense hug as expected from Bollywood films.
Dhaliwal and Dhar’s approach to telling this love story is triumphant because of their clear vision, thoughtfully edited script, and a talented cast portraying richly developed, realistic characters. Characters fully realized by Dhaliwal whose own experiences as a transgender woman help create a relatable Sweety to many LGBTQ identified people. This film is all one could want as a spectacular start of what should be more Bollywood films with positive LGBTQ characters. Who doesn’t want an action rom-com with two men or two women?!
I hope that viewers go home ready to open their hearts to their own LGBTQ family, friends, and community members. It’s time to set love free!