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Review: Laapataa Ladies is a fun-filled and powerful narration of feminism

Recently, I sat (somewhat reluctantly, guilt-ridden by the number of movies and series I was hooked on) to watch Kiran Rao’s latest Netflix film, Laapataa Ladies.

I must admit, at the outset, that it is one of the best movies produced by Bollywood in recent years. The storyline is simple. It is a story about how two young brides get lost in the train—veiled (and wearing the same outfit).

Despite all the well-narrated humour and horror of its characters’ lives, Laapataa Ladies (Missing Women) presents a powerful critique of Indian gender norms. It presents the village society as it is. Its pitfalls, its orthodoxy, and its social norms.

It tells us how women are just lost in the world of men—made for their desires. It sustains a critique of the veil as a representation of oppression. In one of the frames, the critique further dispels how hypocrisy pervades across religions to veil women.

laapataa ladies
A still from the movie | Courtesy: YouTube

On the train to their groom’s places, the two brides set on their journey with their respective grooms. The two brides get lost along the journey due to mishaps (like going to the washroom when the train stops at a station).

In one case, Phool, the bride of Deepak (the main groom), is lost at the station only to realise that her loving husband (who carried with him all the Gold) is nowhere to be found. In another case, Deepak hurriedly set off with another woman named Jaya, who was married to this other guy. They could not see each other because they were covered in the veil, with faces barely seen. What happens thereafter is the whole story.

Deepak is represented as a loving man stuck in the patriarchal structure sustaining gender norms. Patriarchal norms are evident throughout the movie. But, given their depiction in a light-hearted, witty sense, they hit hard, allowing one to see reality without filters. After realising the horrific error on his part, Deepak sets out to find his Phool—only to realise that the photo he has of them does not even show her face.

laapataa ladies
A still from the movie | Courtesy: YouTube

Conversely, Phool ends up meeting Manju Mai (a tea and pakoda seller at the railway station). Manju Mai’s character, played by Chhaya Kadam, is brilliantly written. Rao’s directional narration also digs at some of the recent trash movies in Bollywood that glorify toxic masculinity.  Manju Mai says: “A man who loves you has the right to hit you”. And “one day, I exercised my right as well”. In another scene, Phool asks Manju Mai: “Why aren’t we girls given any opportunities, Mai?” Manju Mai says: “Women can farm and cook. We can give birth to children and raise them. If you think about it, women don’t really need men at all. But, if all women figured this out, men would be screwed, wouldn’t they?” This, for me, is one of the best dialogues of this movie.

Jaya’s husband, it turns out, is a terrible person—who may have killed his earlier wife. In that sense, Jaya’s missing was a blessing for her. She could now think of pursuing her dreams of studying organic farming in Dehradun, although very discreetly. However, for her, there are several hurdles. One is the police (played by Ravi Kishan), who is corrupt—but it turns out, in the end, principled. As the movie ends, Jaya says sorry to Deepak. But, Deepak, in turn, says: “Don’t apologise for having a dream”.

The movie captures the essence and complexity of a gendered society that sustains a hierarchy between men and women. It turns out that it is terrible for both men and women. And it is only the women who bear the brunt of it. Kiran Rao’s narration of Laapataa Ladies is both heartwarming and fiercely feminist in its outlook. It is also a testimony of so many talented first-time, lesser-known actors who are raw and act so naturally without too much action and unnecessary heroic fervour. Instead of wasting the public’s time, energy and money, other Bollywood directors and producers should pay attention to good scripts.

Movie Poster | Courtesy: IMDb

Laapataa Ladies, in that sense, is hard-hitting. It is a tight slap on those directors who spend 500 crores on movies that eventually end up duplicating a Hollywood movie without its form, content, and character. The reception Laapataa Ladies has received is also a testimony to the changing trends in what people want to watch. Make good movies, and don’t sell trash, for there are too many options today.

If you haven’t already watched Laapataa Ladies, I highly recommend you glue to the Netflix screen for two hours or so. It will be worth your time. Thank me later!

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