Banners: Vinod Chopra Films, Fox Star Studios
Producer: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Director: Shelly Chopra Dhar
Cast: Sonam K Ahuja, Anil Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Juhi Chawla, Abhishek Duhan, Madhumalti Kapoor, Seema Pahwa, Regina Cassandra
Writers: Gazal Dhaliwal (Story, Screenplay, Dialogue), Shelly Chopra Dhar (Story, Screenplay)
Music: Rochak Kohli
Films all around the world have a deep affiliation with romantic stories. And with Bollywood, the connection runs even deeper and has proved to be quite successful. While the audience is used to the classic construct of a conventional love story, it takes courage to explore something beyond the formula without making it gimmicky. Debutante director, Shelly Chopra Dhar with her film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (ELKDTAL), proves that if any kind of love story is beautifully told, it will touch your heart.
This film is the story of same sex love, a subject that often causes discomfort and results in denial in the minds of many people. However, the filmmaker, along with the strength of her actors, brings this sensitive subject out into the open with simplicity and elegance.
The story starts with Sweety trying to run away from her controlling brother and finds help in a stranger called Sahil Mirza. Somehow, that small escapade results in a bond between the two of them. After they separate, an aspiring writer and director, Sahil, finds out that Sweety lives in Moga, a small town in the heartland of Punjab and follows her there. Chaos follows when it is revealed the Sweety is in love with a Muslim boy named Sahil but after some insight from a friend, Sweety’s father, the caring and understanding Balbir Chaudhury, agrees to Sweety and Sahil’s union.
But then, Sweety reveals a huge secret to Sahil about who she actually loves. Seeing her fight this dilemma all her life, Sahil decides to help her using the medium of theatre, and what follows is a dramatic climax, giving a new definition to love in Hindi cinema.
The film opens with a sequence of the extravagantly big, fat Punjabi wedding. The makers have successfully created the atmosphere of a quintessential Punjabi household. The film is primarily set in Moga. The narrow lanes, the humble houses and the thoroughfare have been skillfully captured by cinematographer, Himman Dhamija.
Films made to make a social comment and convey a message run the risk of turning preachy and dogmatic. ELKDTAL, however, strikes the perfect balance. The writers, Gazal Dhaliwal and Dhar, manage to express the right to fall in love, the importance of setting love free and shattering the metaphorical glass wall, while still keeping the film light and breezy. The writing is clever and rarely loses pace. Full marks to the writers for adding strong but subtle humour to the story, which adds to the entertainment value of the film and makes it a full package. To cater to a wider audience, the makers have desisted from using clichés to imply lesbianism and homosexuality. Show more and say less, indeed!
The romance-drama also benefits from crisp editing. The first half is light-hearted and events unfold very quickly. The second, though high on emotions and drama, does not seem long-drawn. The lack of high-octane melodrama and over-the-top dialogue save it from becoming another run-of-the-mill social drama.
What is a Bollywood love story without memorable songs, right? The film gives us some impressive songs with a love ballad and a sad number called Chitthiye. Other tracks like Gud naal ishq mitha and Good morning too deserve a listen. The songs do not disrupt the narrative and seamlessly blend with the flow of events. When Sweety and Kuhoo are seen serenading Ek ladki ko dekha toh aisa laga, it is a landmark moment for Indian cinema.
This is the first time that Shelly Chopra Dhar has been given a chance to show her potential as a filmmaker on screen and to her credit, she not only chose a risky subject but also delivered it with sincerity.
Performance-wise, Sonam K Ahuja should be credited for choosing a taboo subject and making it mainstream, which many others would have avoided. The actress looks ethereal throughout the film and has her moments but in a few key scenes, it feels as if she is trying hard to deliver but just not getting it right. Anil Kapoor is his usual energetic self and with a mixture of humour and sensitivity, delivers a jhakaas performance.
Rajkummar Rao is a show-stealer in every frame that he is in. The actor brings out the extraordinary in an ordinary character. Juhi Chawla is a delight with her broken English and quips. She should have been given a meatier role to explore her character. Abhishek Duhan as Sonam’s overprotective brother is very strong. Madhumalti Kapoor as the hilarious Punjabi beeji is amazing. Seema Pahwa seems to be wasted. Regina Cassandra has a special appearance and is good.
Verdict: Worth a dekho!