Laapataa Ladies Review: Emotionally Engaging Film Laced With Doses Of Wry Humour




A still from Laapataa Ladies. (courtesy: YouTube)Kiran Rao returns to the director’s seat well over a decade after her debut film, Dhobi Ghat (2011), with a work that strikes the right notes. She does away with marquee names in Laapataa Ladies, produced by Aamir Khan Productions in association with Kindling Pictures, and employs three first-timers in a lively tale of two brides caught in a terrible mix-up.Laapataa Ladies puts hinterland women front and centre and makes its points about gender equality unambiguously. The screenplay is, however, neither screechy nor shrill. It may not be entirely subtle about what it is driving at, but it does not overplay its hand in any manner.Two newly married village girls who find themselves in a serious crisis. It isn’t of their making. In looking for an end to their troubles, they learn, each in her own way, that there are ways to dispel the darkness around them.It is 2001. In fictional Nirmal Pradesh, two brides, on their way home with their respective husbands, get swapped in a passenger train. In the unsettling but life-altering chaos that ensues, they discover themselves and are never the same again.Phool Kumari (Nitanshi Goel), barely out of her teens, is left stranded at a railway station when her husband Deepak (Sparsh Shrivastav) alights from the train holding the hand of another man’s identically attired and veiled bride (Pratibha Ranta) travelling in the same compartment.When Deepak reaches his village home with the woman who is not his wife, he and his family are confronted with the repercussions of the embarrassing slip-up. The bride introduces herself as Pushpa Rani. Deepak has no clue where Phool, the girl he married, has disappeared.He and his mates search high and low for the missing bride over the next few days. They lodge a complaint at the local police outpost but Inspector Shyam Manohar (Ravi Kishan) is not a man given to swinging into action. If anything, he only aggravates matter.Pushpa, on her part, does not appear overly bothered that she isn’t where she should be. She even begins to develop a bond with two women in the family – Deepak’s mother Yashoda (Geeta Agrawal Sharma) and his sister-in-law Poonam (Rachna Gupta). And thereby lies a tale that contains the seeds of a rebellion.Phool and Pushpa (both are Hindi words for flower) are temperamentally different. The former is grief-stricken, a bit of a babe in the woods who cannot even name the village she was headed to. The latter has her wits about her. She makes the most of the freedom that a home where she does not belong unintentionally grants her. Pushpa is a bride without the attendant shackles because she isn’t in the right place.For poor little Phool, left to fend for herself in an unfamiliar, even perhaps unsafe, place, surviving in one piece is a challenge. She finds help in the form of a chirpy Chhotu (Satendra Soni), who does odd jobs for a rail platform tea and snacks kiosk run by the feisty Manju Maai (Chhaya Kadam).Manju Maai, who has rid herself of an alcoholic husband and a parasitic son and has no qualms about it, takes Phool under her wings and begins to impress upon her the importance of not letting matrimony become a millstone around a girl’s neck.The contrast may seem a touch contrived at first flush. But look deeper and the two incipient mutinies, one by a woman who has a reason, the other by an ingenue who has no option, begin to make sense. The lost ladies are two facets of assertion in the face of a grave crisis.Adapted from a story by Biplab Goswami and scripted by Sneha Desai (who has also written the dialogues with additional inputs from Divyanidhi Sharma), Laapataa Ladies is a social satire with a pronounced feminist accent that gives the film its rationale.The film is breezy and light on its feet. It is never, therefore, in danger of being bogged down by the weighty issues that it addresses. Its simple clarion call is in favour of the rights of women who are robbed of their dreams post-marriage and it is couched in simple methods that do not seek to draw too much attention to themselves.Admittedly, the film isn’t saying anything particularly radical but the manner in which it articulates its concerns is informed with commendable thrust. One thing that Laapataa Ladies certainly isn’t is heavy-handed. It eschews excess. It says what it has to and moves on.The threat that looms over Phool and Pushpa – part of it emanates from the police inspector hell-bent on cashing in on the distress that Deepak is in as a consequence of the accidental swap – exists only on the edges of the world that the laapataa ladies inhabit.The social satire hits home because it is not only emotionally engaging, it also laced with doses of wry humour. Laapataa Ladies is an ‘issue’ film that does not fail to be entertaining. Without playing down the gravity of Phool and Pushpa’s predicaments, it finds space for hope in the bleakest of situations. That apart, the film throws well-directed punches at patriarchy, the evil of dowry, domestic violence and gender roles thrust upon women in wedlock.The three young leads are wonderfully cast. Nitanshi Goel conveys a combination of fragility and optimism with minimum effort. Sparsh Shrivastav (of Jamtara fame) is solid. Pratibha Ranta is a show-stealer.Among the supporting actors, Ravi Kishan as the cop whose role in the story goes beyond just policing is terrific. Geeta Agrawal Sharma, cast as Deepak’s spunky mother, is, as always, pitch-perfect. And what does one say of Chhaya Kadam? She radiates brilliance.Several of the tertiary actors are also noteworthy. Irrespective of how much footage the film apportions to them collectively and individually, they stand out. Satendra Soni, Rachna Gupta playing Deepak’s sister-in-law and Durgesh Kumar as a slow-on-the-uptake constable contribute their mite to the film.Laapataa Ladies gets so much right that a blip here or a blemish there can do no damage to the way it shapes up.Cast:Nitanshi Goel, Pratibha Ranta, Sparsh Shrivastava, Ravi Kishan and Chhaya KadamDirector:Kiran Rao



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