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regular-article-logo Sunday, 14 April 2024

Laapataa Ladies: Kiran Rao tackles gender issues with a light touch and leaves a mark

The film features Nitanshi Goel, Pratibha Ranta and Sparsh Shrivastava in pivotal roles

Agnivo Niyogi Calcutta Published 02.03.24, 04:42 PM
A poster of Kiran Rao’s Laapataa Ladies

A poster of Kiran Rao’s Laapataa Ladies IMDB

Director Kiran Rao, known for her emotive storytelling in the 2010 film Dhobi Ghat, returns with a poignant exploration of women’s agency in her latest film, Laapataa Ladies. Set in the fictional heartland of Nirmal Pradesh, the film delicately unveils the gender biases and societal norms entrenched in the lives of its characters.

The film begins with newlyweds Deepak (Sparsh Shrivastava) and Phool (Nitanshi Goel) catching a train to Deepak’s village, only to find several other newlywed couples — the brides in veils and the grooms in sehra — on board too. There’s nervous energy in the compartments, and a late-night mixup leads to Deepak getting off at his stop with the wrong bride — Jaya (Pratibha Ranta), who introduces herself as Pushpa.

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Phool, too, lands up in another railway station, with another groom. Desperate to locate her husband, Phool seeks help from random strangers at the station, but her search is complicated by the fact that she cannot even recall the name of her husband’s village and she refuses to utter her husband’s name as it is against custom in rural areas.

Phool takes shelter at the station itself and comes across a group of helpful people led by the stern but sensitive Manju Mai (Chhaya Kadam), who manages a tea and snacks stall. A search for Phool is simultaneously underway in Deepak’s village, while Jaya’s presence in Deepak’s household has an impact on the family dynamics.

In walks Shyam Manohar (Ravi Kishan), a corrupt policeman who is assigned the case and who suspects Jaya to be connected to a fake bride gang. As the investigation progresses, a comedy of errors follows.

Adapted from a story by Biplab Goswami, Laapataa Ladies is a testament to the power of women standing up for each other and the importance of questioning social norms. Through the bonds formed between its female characters — Jaya becomes an unexpected confidante for Deepak’s usually reserved sister-in-law, while Manju Mai becomes the catalyst that prompts Phool to reevaluate her life — the film underscores the transformative potential of solidarity.

Laapataa Ladies addresses a spectrum of issues, from women’s education to dowry and domestic violence, without going overboard on any front. Kiran Rao avoids the preachy tone and her light touch makes a strong impact, leaving one with plenty of things to mull on.

Central to the film's success are the compelling performances, particularly by Nitanshi Goel as Phool, whose quiet strength and resilience speaks volumes. Pratibha Ranta stands out as an embodiment of the complexities of womanhood in a patriarchal society. Sparsh Shrivastav drives home the conflict and confusion that Deepak experiences throughout the film.

Rao’s use of the dialect is spot on and the absorbing dialogues become a source of humour. The attention to detail is noticeable too, from the rustic charm of Deepak’s household to the bustling train stations that serve as the backdrop for the characters’ journeys, thanks to Vikash Nowlakha’s cinematography and Vikram Singh’s production design.

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