Alert: Spoilers Ahead
Bollywood has been a heterosexual heaven and haven. Film after film, it reinforces the stereotype that there is only one way to love. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga makes us realise that Bollywood has grown up to acknowledge that love exists in many forms.
This film by Shelly Chopra Dhar cannot be labelled as an “art house” film, it’s a film with all the ingredients that could make it a box office grosser. No doubt Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is an experience that will make you question your beliefs and prejudices and urge you to crossover to the side of compassion and understanding. And it does so in a fun filled way without pregnant pauses. This film speaks about a lot of issues and it is real, well researched and relatable to many who are oppressed.
Let me begin with the elephant in the room:
Homophobia and Heteronormitivity
Boys bully boys and it affects everybody. Witnessing bullying is almost like experiencing it when you sail in the same boat as the one who is being bullied. This is how queer persons sometimes put up the mask of being homophobes – just to reiterate they don’t belong to the oppressed lot. While nothing justifies violence, we ought to understand where it comes from. We assume that heterosexuality is the only culture and the only normal, thus pushing several fragile lives to the end of life. It is painful to hear someone say that they would either move away with their lover or kill themselves. In Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga there is a powerful scene of a group of young boys bullying an effeminate boy in the classroom. Sweety swallows her words and her pride at that very moment. The expression on the young girl’s face will haunt the living daylights out of anyone who understands oppression.
Women and Patriarchy
It is always difficult for women who are subjugated by men. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga doesn’t try to hide anything. A possessive homophobic brother (who in many ways seems like a homosexual with internalised homophobia), a doting dad who thinks it is not important to seek the consent of his daughter, this film has all examples of it. Men decide what women should do. Sweety's brother is the only victim here, highlighting the fact that men trapped within toxic masculinity need help. Also there is a scene of Anil Kapoor’s mom reprimanding him for doing jobs meant for women. Patriarchy is not propagated by men alone.
I am not a woman. What a woman goes through is my understood and empathised experience, not my lived experience. However, feminism is also about men’s rights to be seen as compassionate, soft, nurturing and loving without being bullied for their gender that is often stereotyped as brash and harsh. Anil Kapoor takes joy in cooking, but he gives up his dream of becoming India’s greatest chef because cooking is supposed to be a woman’s job, though some of the most popular chefs are men. If stereotypes are true, like a true blue Punjabi, Anil Kapoor as Balbir Choudhary has more foodgasms than orgasms.
Half way through the film, we realise that this film also tackles islamophobia. Half way through the film, we realise that this film also tackles islamophobia. Rajkummar's character is very nuanced. He is Muslim, a playwright and is also non judgemental even with those who judge him. At one point in the film, it seems that religion doesn’t matter as much as the gender does. But what if Kuhu was Muslim, would that be another angle?
A divorced mom who values her independence and dares to lust and love, a woman who dares to stand up for her truths despite the judgements. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga has it all. Juhi Chawla plays a liberated woman, who is full of life and is also as innocent as her character was in Bol Radha Bol.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is not all about what’s hunky dory. It reveals the real story of judgements and prejudices. Your heart will melt when you see people leaving a play put up by the main characters midway because same sex love offends them. But that’s a reality. I watched the film at a special screening with Sonam Kapoor in attendance, so everyone was well behaved. I plan to go to theatres and see how the regular audience reacts. If they do negatively, I would love to give a speech.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is special because never before has an out and out commercial Bollywood cinema so explicitly shown lesbian characters. I think (Queer/Bisexual) Kalki and Sayani did a fabulous job in Margarita With A Straw, that was a commercial film too, however, it wasn’t a run-of-the-mill Bollywood flick in anyway. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is as Bollywood as Bollywood can be, however, it is also a cusp between commercial cinema and human reality.
Bollywood and Same Sex Relationships
Deepa Mehta’s Fire released in 1996, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga comes in 2019. Fire was revolutionary in every way. However, I believe the female protagonists of Fire get attracted into having sexual relationship with each other because they are neglected by their own husbands. I would argue that perhaps they were homosexuals or bisexuals or queer, but patriarchy pushed them to a stage where they never spoke about their desires. Dedh Ishqiya in 2014 had left an broad hits about the possibility that Huma Qureshi and Madhuri Dixit are queer. There was an atrocious film called Girl Friend in 2004 wherein Isha Koppikar and Amrita Arora play lesbians.
When it comes to male sexuality, we have had plenty. From the comedy track in Kal Ho Na Ho, to the story of a gay man dying of AIDS in My Brother Nikhil in 2005, to a bisexual man in Honeymoon Travels in 2007, and the use of the word "gay” so liberally in Dostana, to the National Award winning I Am and to the very refreshing Kapoor & Sons, which dealt with the coming out challenges of a mother, we have had some fantastic films. Of course, there were the Madhur Bhandarkar brand of films that always showed homosexuals in a bad light and Karan Johar also made some horrible decisions, like the character of a lusty Rishi Kapoor in Student Of The Year and the cheating hubby Randeep Hooda in Bombay Talkies.
Just understanding the journey from Fire to Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, from Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das to Sonam Kapoor and Regina Cassandra is telling and it shows that Bollywood has come of age.
It is interesting to note that this is Juhi Chawla’s third film with a Queer theme, it started with My Brother Nikhil, then she was in I Am, and now Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. Rajkummar Rao has always played the role of the champion of queer rights. It started with Aligarh, where he supported Manoj Bajpai’s character, here he supports Sweety played by Sonam Kapoor. Rajkummar is endearing, especially his facial expressions, he immerses himself in every character so much that you don’t see the actor Rajkummar Rao at all, you only see the character he portrays. Anil Kapoor as usual is fabulous in the film as Sonam Kapoor’s dad who embraces the fact that his daughter is a lesbian.
Sonam is a darling and is fabulous in the film. She is a well read actor, who also feels for the cause and she walks the talk in this film. The actor who is not queer in real life, is queering the way for progressive minds to be open to the idea of love of all kinds. She is a driving force, a beacon of hope. Shelly Dhar Chopra is no doubt a fine director who we need to see more of.
The last word should go for my friend Gazal Dhaliwal the story, screenplay and the dialogue writer of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. She is from Punjab and has been bullied when she was a feminine boy. Her family stood by her and through her transformation from a man to a woman in her early twenties. Gazal is my real hero. Though this film is in no way autobiographical to her, but I could read that the reality of nuances in this film about bullying, patriarchy, stereotypical roles for men and women could be crafted only by someone who is empowered and empathetic. If you want to be really inspired, I leave you to watch Gazal’s journey here.
. Read more on Bollywood by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsAn ‘Insult’ to Farmers: Rahul Gandhi on Budget 2019 Announcements . Read more on Bollywood by The Quint.