Sunday, April 21, 2024

Laapataa Ladies: Kiran Rao triumphs with delightful, nuanced comedy!


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Women-centric movies often end up highlighting stereotypes and essentialising people who belong to different gender communities.
But if, as protagonists in a narrative, women get to focus on or are oriented towards issues that confine them to pigeonholes, and also underline their experiences, perspectives and needs, it can truly be called a gynocentric film.
After wowing cinephiles with her directorial debut in Dhobi Ghaat, Kiran Rao tells a story in Laapata Ladies that does not necessarily define feminism, or deal with it, but it sure delights both men and women with nuggets that describe a variety of facets of our lives, including policies, media, art, and organisations that prioritise the voices and concerns of women.
Set in 2001, somewhere in rural India in a fictional place named Nirmal Pradesh (though shot in Madhya Pradesh), Laapata Ladies )(Lost Ladies) is about Phool (Nitanshi Goel) and Jaya (Pratibha Ranta), who are two new brides travelling to their in-laws’ place after their wedding in the same city.
It is sheer coincidence that they also share the same crammed coach of the Indian Railways. Phool has been instructed by her mother to keep looking at her feet. The veil, her mother warns, is the reason for the wearer to be the obedient duty-bound wife, forever looking down and being quiet. It is her modesty that will be her husband’s strength.
Wearing identical sarees and bridal veils that hide their faces entirely, the two can barely be recognised by their respective spouses. Quite naturally, Phool’s husband Deepak (Sparsh Shrivastava) mistakenly wakes up Jaya in the night and takes her to his home in his village, while Phool is shepherded by Jaya’s husband, only to be deserted at a railway station.
What follows is a holy mess as the young women have no idea how to deal with a situation when the truth dawns on them and subsequently on the families of their in-laws.
Revealing how it all happens will lead to spoilers. Though largely it is all about the two brides, it is how the two men feel and, more importantly, behave, bring to light the much-maligned and naive small-town young men, unassuming and humble, who are more embarrassed than the young brides.
The identical-in-height young brides, though shaken initially, take it upon themselves to regard the sudden quirks of fate as a challenge. And then begins the journey of self-discovery for the two.
Phool, on being helped by an affable good Samaritan tea vendor at the station (Chhaya Kadam), adjusts to seek pleasure in a new setting, and resigns herself to her fate, though in her heart of hearts, she is hopeful of getting reunited with her husband, Deepak.
Jaya, who is more educated, begins to make plans to get out of the chaos. She even adjusts to and endears herself in the new home and uses her education to help her in-laws, who were working with outdated farming techniques, to deal with the damage inflicted to their crops by doves. .
Adapted from a story by Biplab Goswami, the screenplay and dialogue are by Sneha Desai. Kiran Rao constructs a typical North Indian village as the backdrop and adds her touch of humanism, warmth and love.
She gets excellently assisted by production designer Vikram Singh, who makes sure every outfit worn by the characters, from sarees to sweaters and every other part of their daily lives, from the bedsheets to the cots, to the open courtyards, to the bare minimum lower middle-class necessities in each house, looking both liveable and believable.
Both Jaya and Phool live through occurrences that go on to help them realise their own potential and their passage to independence and womanhood. Their characters are well-written and they get enmeshed in the cultural fabric of the times and background they are set in.
Both NItanshi Goel as Phool and Pratibha Ranta as Jaya live their respective roles and leave an indelible mark.
Rao’s execution reminds one of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nauka Doobi written back in 1906 when it raised many questions of head and heart and the validity or otherwise of social conventions.
Barring the similarity about two newly married wives getting changed, Rao’s film has nothing in common with the Nobel Laureate’s story.
Rao adds her touch of feminism and her view of the age-old conventions and beliefs that continue to abound across the country.
She uses patriarchal norms to her advantage to narrate her story. And while doing so, she does not need to be self-righteous or morally correct. (IANS)


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