When the trailer of the new Sonam Kapoor-starrer Ek Ladki ko Dekha toh Aisa Laga dropped earlier in January, it took a certain section of the internet by storm.
Finally here was a Bollywood movie with a very relatable name (literally taken from iconic 1994 Anil Kapoor-Manisha Koirala romantic number), big-shot A-listers like Sonam Kapoor, Anil Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao in the cast and a presumably mainstream cinematography that was talking about same-sex love, and more importantly, same-sex love between two women.
The story revolves around Sweety Chaudhary, played by Sonam, and her relationship with her father, Balbir Chaudhary, played by her real-life father Anil Kapoor. The movie starts with a wedding scene, where a girl tries to set Sweety up with her brother.
Sweety is loved and adored by her family, which comprises of her father, brother and grandmother, and a couple of house-helps who are like family. But in her own moments, she is sad and lonely, almost haunted by something unspoken between her and everyone else.
On the other side of the story, there is Sahil Mirza, played by Rajkummar Rao, who is an aspiring writer trying to make it big in the theatre. At the beginning of the movie, Sahil helps Sweety to run away from her own brother unknowingly, and in the process, falls in love with her. He takes his play to her hometown Moga, Punjab in the hopes of meeting her and to tell her how he feels.
But at Sweety’s home, we see her whole family, especially her brother estranging her because of an affair she has with a Muslim boy. But there is an obvious vibe that there is something untrue about the whole situation.
Finally, when Sahil manages to express himself to Sweety, we find out that all this time, she was not in a relationship with another guy or was in love with him. It was a woman all along. (Let’s stay mum on her identity to avoid spoilers, in case our readers are yet to watch the movie.)
Hearing this, a heartbroken and helpless Sahil decides to cancel his play and go back. But Sweety meets him and tells him everything about herself. How she felt completely isolated ever since she discovered her identity, because she was “different” than the rest and no one at school or at home tried to understand her. Listening to her story, Sahil changes his mind and decides to stay and do the play, but with a different story.
He decides, with a little help from his mother, that this time he would not tell a story, he would tell the truth. Sweety gives him the diaries from her childhood in which she poured her heart out, and Sahil weaves a play which tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers whom the society won’t let be just because they are both women.
He names the play Ek Ladki ko Dekha toh Aisa Laga.
Just before the play is about to be staged, Sweety’s brother tells her father the truth, and laced with anger and disappointment at how his daughter let him down, he leaves the stage. But before he crosses the threshold, in a monologue pouring her heart out once again but this time for her father, Sweety tells him that maybe, just maybe, he let his daughter down too.
The play is performed nonetheless. And as both the movie and the play within it peaks towards finality, we see love triumph over meaningless taboos and discrimination – not just the love between two lovers, but the one between a father and a daughter as well.
What the movie offers
The writer-director of the movie Shelly Chopra Dhar said in one of her interviews, that Ek Ladki ko Dekha toh Aisa Laga is not an LGBTQ+ love story, but about the love and understanding a family shares within itself. And it is true. Writing credits of the movie also goes to Gazal Dhaliwal, who identifies as a transwoman.
In its 2 hours running time, the movie does not use the word ‘lesbian’ at all. It does not focus much on the relationship between the lead character and her love interest either. And one might also say that despite the story being about Sweety and her sexuality, it uses very little of her own voice. Except for two scenes – one where she tells her story to Sahil and another in the climactic monologue where she does the same to her father – there aren’t many in which we hear what she has to say. Instead, the narrative becomes more about the conflict between two men – Sahil, who is on her side and is trying to help her, and Balbir, her father who is yet to overcome his homophobia.
But on the other hand, the movie triumphs in the light-hearted and sensitive manner with which it deals with the issue. It portrays, quite accurately, how much homophobia is still deeply-rooted in Indian societies and households. It shows from up close, how much it can affect a person from childhood, to be made a victim of it. One of the most intense moments of the movie is when we see a young Sweety trapped inside a glass box, banging helplessly and asking to be ‘let out’.
These are the moments with which the movie touches some very important chords. But most importantly, it might start more pro-LGBT conversations when it comes to movie plots in Bollywood, and that is perhaps the biggest thing one can take away from Ek Ladki ko Dekha toh Aisa Laga.