Kiran Rao's 'Laapataa Ladies' is a powerful exploration of female agency and resilience

Laapataa Ladies
Laapataa Ladies posters. Photo: IMDb

Kiran Rao's 'Laapataa Ladies' (Lost Ladies), produced by Aamir Khan Productions, offers a fresh perspective on the struggles of married Indian women who find themselves obscured behind traditional norms. The film delves into the world beyond the veil of patriarchy with simplicity and subtlety. Senha Desai's screenplay, based on Biplab Goswami's story, intricately portrays the lives of Phool Kumari (Nitanshi Goel) and Pushpa Rani, aka Jaya (Pratibha Ranta), two brides who are 'lost' amid their journey to their marital destinations.

This scene not only showcases the beauty of the screenplay and direction but also sets the tone for what follows. As Phool and her husband, Deepak (Sparsh Srivastav), enter the cabin, Jaya's mother-in-law brazenly inquires about the dowry he received. In the dowry weigh-in, though she loses to another groom in the cabin, it reveals a lot about the key characters without openly stating it. The discussion is unpleasant for Deepak, not because he didn't get much in dowry from the marriage, but because it visibly unsettles Phool. Meanwhile, Pradeep (Bhaskar Jha) Jaya's husband, and the other groom in the cabin, use this moment as a platform to display their male chauvinism. This scene serves as a pivotal moment in the narrative, shedding light on the characters' dynamics and foreshadowing future events.

Vikash Nowlakha's handheld camera work, coupled with motivated lighting, immerses viewers in the confusion unfolding throughout the movie. The close focal length chosen for most of the movie further intensifies the sense of intimacy. The stellar performances by the cast, particularly Sparsh as Deepak, Nitanshi, Ravi Kishan (portraying Inspector Shyam Manohar), and Geeta Aggarwal Sharma (as Deepak’s mother Yasoda), anchors the film with emotional depth and authenticity, thanks to Romil Modi's meticulous casting.

Through poignant scenes like the train journey, Kiran Rao delivers a subtle commentary on feminism, depicting the complexities of female identity and the pervasive influence of patriarchal norms. As the story unfolds, Phool and Jaya forge a bond of sisterhood, each empowered to pursue her own aspirations—Phool aims to contribute to her new family's livelihood by doing some job, while Jaya seeks further education. There are also the representative of toxic femininity, an ideal man and also crusaders of patriarchal misogyny. Moments like Phool's assertive action at the railway station, where she defies societal norms by addressing her husband by name, underscore the characters' agency and resilience. It might look as if she was motivated by fear of losing her husband once again, amidst the commotion of passengers alighted from the train. But the fact that earlier, stranded at an unknown railway station (Pateela) in the middle of the night, despite the station master repeatedly asking for her husband's name, she refuses and shows Deepak’s name marked on her palm with mehendi would establish that it is more of her choice. If Phool had been taught not to utter the name of her husband by the women in her household, including her mother, it is Manju Maai (Chhaya Kadam), a woman tea-seller at the Pateela Railway Station, who guides her in unlearning this tradition. Manju, who lives alone after ending an abusive marriage, also inspires Phool to start working when she reunites with her husband.

The dialogues, co-written by Sneha and Divyanidhi Sharma, strike a balance between wit and insight, never veering into preachiness. Even when addressing weighty themes through child characters like Bablu (Abeer Sandeep Jain), the dialogue maintains a sense of innocence and authenticity, avoiding melodrama. One example of this is when Bablu (Abeer Sandeep Jain), Deepak’s nephew, draws parallels between his friend’s lost footwear at the temple and the misplaced brides and announces that as per the founders' keepers theory, Jaya is his new aunty without sounding sententious.

'Laapataa Ladies' exemplifies the potential of socially conscious cinema, urging production houses like Aamir Khan Productions to support more such endeavours. In an era dominated by digital platforms, films like this hold the power to catalyse meaningful social change, reaching audiences far beyond the confines of urban theatres. While box office success may be secondary, the real impact lies in inspiring grassroots conversations and fostering empathy among viewers, especially those in rural areas.

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