In one of the very important scenes of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Sahil Mirza, a struggling playwright by profession says – Humara jo yeh natak hain na, aap dimag se nahi dil se dekhiye. In a way, Sahil is impersonating the writers of the film here, because just like him, even they are rather lackluster writers through and through, and write a half hearted drama sans soul jisme woh true love wali feel nahi aati. Yes it stays fairly superficial, simplistic and ornamental all along. Which is sort of sad because the story is written by trans-woman Gazal Dhaliwal and writer director Shelly Chopra Dhar, who should have treated it with far more maturity to actually realize the intent of breaking barriers and #SetLoveFree.
It almost appears that they are themselves not convinced of taking the topic seriously, and be brave enough to actually explore the layers of the love story that gets lost somewhere amidst all the ill crafted siyappa and flimsy sugarcoated gloss of a melodramatic family. Hence the much hyped and hushed lesbian love story only stays as prop, while most of the time is spent around acknowledging it and then addressing the reactions of log kya kahenge.
In fact the storytelling is completely stuck in the hero for the heroine format – so its the hero of the story, Sahil Mirza, who has as much a back story in the film as the heroine, Sweety Choudhary, while Sweety’s actual love interest Kuhu (hell we don’t even know her full name) makes a real entry into the story only post interval and has a couple of meaningful scenes only in the final twenty minutes of the climax. The writers are so much focused on acceptance of this relationship with Sweety’s family, that they totally forget that Kuhu also deserves a back story and a family and there might be problems at her end as well. I can’t fathom that they would have done it had their love story been typical, completely trivializing the character arc of one of the partners. The moments of togetherness between Sweety and Sahil also appear far more sincere, earnest and intimate than those between Sweety and Kuhu, and it almost appears that the roles of friends and lovers are reversed only on paper and never in spirit.
The premise is way too sanitized, way too cliched and hence the attempt to make any bold statement appears far too hypocritical. Glazed with dollops of tussi and mainu (two words yet again considered enough to setup a Punjabi milieu!), a long wedding sangeet opening sequence, and forced jokes on paneer tikkas and tijoris, the film intentionally sets itself up as a high pitched tone deaf malasa movie right from the beginning that has no room for nuanced sensitivity. This is DDLJ done a few times shabbier. Understood that its a small town, affluent and highly patriarchal Punjabi family (so much so that Sweety’s mother is not even mentioned for once in the two hours) where the patriarch Balbir Choudhary faces constant rebuke from his own mother because of his ‘feminine’ passion of cooking, or where the brother in the family has a constant upper hand over the sister and his repeating misbehavior with her hardly annoys anyone; but every single scene to set up these characteristics are extremely exaggerated and melodramatic. The family flourishes in ornamental names like Gifty for the grandmother and continues the tradition with a Sweety for the granddaughter, and everyone in the household is far more dramatic than any of the characters that Sahil would have ever written for his plays. The humor borders on slapstick, and except for a diary, there is non existent understated emotions in this setup! Hence the only way the writers could have wrapped up this clutter was with the highly preachy and melodramatic final act of the film. The problem with this approach is that the real essence of the film and its emotional impact gets drowned in its own cacophony, and one walks out of the theater without any feelings of love, empathy or a sense of victory or freedom for its characters.
Which is sad for a film that had lined up such a promising ensemble cast that could have done so much more. That Anil Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao are the brightest shining stars of the ensemble is amply clear because the scenes between them are the finest of the film. Rajkummar Rao‘s acting prowess shows even in the dullest of sequences and the ease with which he shows his struggle with his losing self raises the bar of the film at quite a few places. I did have problems with his overdone act though right at the interval point when the ‘secret’ is first acknowledged. Anil Kapoor is like old wine that only gets better with age, his spontaneity is infectious that pushes everyone around him to give their best.
Sadly, the best that comes from Sonam Kapoor isn’t good enough for the challenging role that she takes up. She manages to carry the silent parts of her role with the much needed poise but falters in all emotional scenes where she needs to speak. As such the first outing of the real life father and daughter on screen does not generate much sparks. Far more sparkling is Juhi Chawla‘s supporting act where she aces a breezy character with an impeccable timing for comedy. The same however cannot be said for Seema Pahwa, Brijendra Kala, Abhishek Duhan or Madhumita Kapoor who are just wasted in poorly written roles.
And then there is Regina Cassandra who exists far more as an entity in conversations than having actual screen space to make a mark. The film that wishes to Set Love Free as its theme, doesn’t even offer enough freedom and space to Regina to tell her story! Sigh!
I don’t know how the producer of the film Vidhu Vinod Chopra feels today. Twenty five years ago, he had created magic with Ek ladki ko dekha toh aisa laga in his own landmark directorial. Somewhere today, his sister’s film seems to have failed him by not being able to recreate the same magic and preserve its sanctity! I would have felt devastated – its a golden opportunity shattered to pieces!
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