Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga deserves praise for daring to tackle same-sex relationships in a film industry where gay people have mainly seem to appear only as comic relief. Although Shelly Chopra Dhar’s film is a sanitised and strangely unemotional journey, showing even a fraction of the prejudice and discrimination faced by anyone who does not follow cultural norms is surely a step in the right direction. The story is kept safe and family-friendly with the actual romance not getting much attention, while most of the light and shade comes from the excellent support cast. Rajkummar Rao is outstanding, Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla bring warmth and real affection to their roles while Abhishek Duhan manages to encapsulate every negative thought or emotion pertaining to homosexuality within his character. This is definitely a film worth watching, although I wish it had shown more of the heartache and allowed the lead character to fight her own battles rather than relying on the various men in her life to shape her destiny.

Sonam Kapoor plays the character of Sweety, the daughter of businessman and garment factory owner Balbir Chaudhary (Anil Kapoor). She lives with her father, brother Babloo (Abhishek Duhan) and grandmother (Madhumalti Kapoor) in the Punjabi town of Moga but her path crosses with Sahil Mirza (Rajkummar Rao) during a visit to Delhi. Sahil is the son of a rich producer, but he’s trying to make his own way in the world as a writer and playwright. Unfortunately, the film he wrote for his father has been wildly panned and his new play doesn’t seem destined to reach any great heights either, given the small theatre where it is being produced and a seemingly limited budget. However, a chance encounter with Sweety intrigues Sahil and as he aids her escape from her brother, he decides he wants to know more about her self-described long and complicated story. A few vague ideas about producing a play in a regional town with local actors is enough for Sahil to travel to Moga with the theatre caterer Chatro (Juhi Chawla). Once in Moga he finds Sweety easily enough but as he learns more about her Sahil becomes drawn into her struggle to be the person she really wants to be.

What works really well in the film is the character of Sahil, and Rajkummar Rao is fantastic, infusing Sahil with understanding, empathy and a good sense of humour right from the start. Although initially he is smitten with Sweety, his transformation to her champion is very believable and done with plenty of humour and warmth. Even his brief interactions with his own parents have some clever by-play that gives further insights into Sahil’s character and provide an interesting contrast with Sweety’s family. Anil Kapoor is another major strength in the film and he strikes exactly the right note as a wealthy businessman who only wants the best for his daughter. In a nice parallel he has had to hide his love of cooking all his life as his mother doesn’t find the kitchen an appropriate place for a Punjabi man. Although I did find that odd given that most top chefs are in fact male. Perhaps it was more of a status thing (which didn’t come across with the subtitles), but it does mean that Balbir has experience of hiding the thing he loves from his mother, something that gives him the ability to develop an understanding of his daughter’s problems later in the film.

I love Juhi Chawla and she is brilliant here in a role that allows her to showcase her excellent comedic talents. Her Chatro is convinced she is a mind-shattering actress, although no-one else believes in her talent. She is a superb cook however, and this is the talent that’s appreciated by Balbir and leads to some hilarious interactions between the two. Chatro is confident in her abilities – whether it’s cooking or acting, and Juhi makes her a wonderfully warm and likeable character to boot. It’s no wonder Balbir is smitten, and the scenes between these two brilliant actors really are the absolute highlight of this film for me.

Sonal Kapoor is a little more disappointing as Sweety, which is a shame as writers Gazal Dhaliwal and Shelly Chopra Dhar have given her some great material to work with. The stories Sweety tells Sahil about her life and the difficulties she has faced should have been some of the most heart-wrenching moments of the entire film, but the emotion never goes quite deep enough. Although this is probably the best performance I have seen from Sonal, there doesn’t seem to be any real pain behind her dialogues. Although she is obviously trying hard, Sweety appears just sad, not anguished or distraught, even when she was discussing such monumental decisions as ending her life or marrying anyone just to get away from the constant pressure from her family. While I can accept that a lifetime of repression would make someone less prone to show their emotions, to make the film more effective, I really needed to feel her pain much more deeply that she ever manages to express here. Where Sonam is better however, is during the climax of the film where she responds to her father disapproval, and here she brings the emotion and drama that’s missing elsewhere in her performance.

What I really like about the film is the depiction of how difficult it is to reveal homosexuality to family, friends and the community in India. With the recent decriminalisation of homosexuality in India, perhaps there will be some changes, but given how much prejudice and shame there is still attached to same-sex relationships in the West, I feel this will be a long and difficult process. The first Hindi film I saw that touched on this subject was Onir’s excellent My Brother… Nikhil, which also starred Juhi Chawla, but this I think is the first main-stream Hindi film that has tackled the subject of lesbianism within India. In Margarita, with a Straw for example, the character was only able to embark on her same-sex relationship when she left the country and was studying overseas. From that perspective I think that this is an important film, as it does bring to light the difficulties experienced by people who identify as LGBTQIA and openly shows the prejudice and discrimination they receive. The need to keep everything secret and repress their sexuality is clearly discussed, even if only briefly. Sweety’s brother Babloo is vehemently opposed to her relationships and this character allows some of the range of hate against homosexuality to be exposed, even when disguised as concern for the person or their family. Babloo is an unpleasant character, but there is a lot of truth in Abhishek Duhan’s portrayal and I felt that he totally nailed the animosity and disgust his character felt while projecting care and consideration for Sweety and the entire family. This bigotry is effectively done and is one of the important points that Shelley Chopra Dhar gets across so well in the film.

I also love the response of the audience to Sahil’s play about Sweety and how Shelley Chopra Dhar captures the conservative ideas and morals of a small town. The contrast between young girls with their faces full of rapt attention as they followed the story, with the adults in the crowd who got up and left with angry gestures, sums up the story beautifully and illustrates just how far communities need to change to overcome these unreasonable and biased attitudes.

In this way it’s the subject matter and the idea of the film that is important, and in this I think Shelly Chopra Dhar has exceeded expectations. The film itself doesn’t fare quite as well, given the rather conservative approach to Sweety’s relationship. Her partner Kuhu (Regina Cassandra) only appears onscreen briefly, which is rather a shame since Regina sparkles when she is on camera and I would have liked to see more of her character and even heard Kuhu’s story too. Instead the film concentrates on the family relationships, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but some of the romance needed to be included to give some balance to the story. I can understand that the director probably didn’t want to alienate main-stream audiences, but it does mean that the film is lacking emotional attachment.  It’s still an enjoyable film and one that can be watched without delving too much into the politics and societal issues, which hopefully means it will reach a wide audience. It deserves to.

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Duplicate (1998)

If not for the presence of Shah Rukh Khan I probably would have avoided Duplicate, since I’m not a fan of slapstick comedy and usually detest buffoonish characters. But despite all the farce I totally loved it, although even though I’ve now watched it multiple times, I’m still not entirely sure why it appeals to me so much. Of course Shah Rukh in a double role is enough to explain at least some of the attraction, but no matter how many times I watch Duplicate I still find it funny even though I know the plot is preposterous and the end completely ridiculous. It all comes down to the charm of the lead couple and an excellent supporting cast who manage to hold the film together, keeping it genuinely entertaining the whole way through. Plus there isn’t even a whiff of Johnny Lever which is always a win in any Hindi comedy as far as I’m concerned!

Shah Rukh plays the dual roles of Bablu Chaudary – a rather gormless and naïve chef, and his duplicate in appearance Manu Dada – a vicious gangster out for revenge on his former partners in crime. He keeps the two characters totally separate and it’s always very clear who he is at any time in the film.

Bablu is the son of a Punjabi wrestler and since he has no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps he is a severe disappointment to his mother (Farida Jalal). Bablu comes across as the lovechild of Frank Spencer and Norman Wisdom as he indulges in pratfalls and causes general mayhem when he goes for a job interview at a posh hotel. Despite all the face-pulling and foolish grins, Bablu isn’t quite as stupid as he looks and gets the job after proving he can whip up a rather un-Japanese looking Japanese meal in 20 minutes while dancing with various vegetables and duly impressing the banquet manager Sonia Kapoor (Juhi Chawla) with his multi-tasking skills. It’s quite silly but rather engaging at the same time.

This initial attraction between Bablu and Sonia develops into a romance that isn’t quite as creepy as it might have been given Bablu’s essentially child-like nature and Sonia’s more mature outlook on life. Although she is appalled when his secret fantasy is to feed his bride potato dumplings on their wedding night, they do seem to reach an understanding during the songs. Sadly Juhi’s character seems to have been cursed with the worst shoe costume designer ever as she appears in a number of terrible ankle boots throughout most of this, but otherwise it’s a very cute song and there are some good shots of Prague in the background.

While Bablu is getting to know his boss, Manu escapes from jail although why he is wearing nifty pleather pants accessorised with circa 80’s Madonna-style jewellery for his jail-break is a total mystery. Manu is on the trail of his previous accomplices who set him up for his jail time and then absconded with all the loot from their criminal activities. The gang includes Dhingra (Sharat Saxena), Gappa (Rana Jung Bahadur) and Gulshan Grover as Shalaku – the man who rather significantly does not have a death line on his hand. They are an incredibly inept gang of criminals and seem totally unable to recognise Manu when he turns up to kill each of them. Of course he is a man of mystery and a master of disguise, at least according to the equally inept police team who are out to catch Manu and send him back to jail.

Manu dresses in drag as part of his plan to get past security and eliminate Dhingra. I have to say that although Shah Rukh does make a particularly ugly woman, he is disturbingly convincing as he dances provocatively before whipping off his wig and revealing his true persona. It’s a classic scene and it’s made even better by the wonderful decor in the background.

It’s inevitable that the police find Bablu and mistake him for Manu which starts off a chain of mistaken identity that Manu uses to his advantage. But Manu makes a mistake when he captures Bablu’s mother as this forces Bablu to take action. Bablu decides to impersonate Manu to get his mother back from the gangster’s clutches and while his attempts to mimic Manu’s menacing persona fall far short of the real thing, he does manage to convince Mnau’s girlfriend Lily (Sonali Bendre) and Manu’s gang. This leads to a totally crazy song where Sonia is out with Manu, thinking he is Bablu, while Bablu does his best to avoid Lily’s attentions. I’ll just point out that Karan Johar was responsible for Shah Rukh’s costumes and leave it at that since I think that explains it all.

The confusion gets more and more ridiculous but Shah Rukh keeps it easy to decipher whether we’re watching Bablu pretending to be Manu or Manu pretending to be Bablu, even if the police, Shalaku and his cronies, Sonia and Lily can’t manage to work it out. Although Shah Rukh overplays both characters it works in the film since it’s all totally over the top and silly. Watching Bablu (pretending to be Manu) and Shalaku battle it out in a bathtub (thankfully) full of bubbles and squeaky toys should have been absurd but instead it’s hilarious.

The supporting cast are all excellent and Farida Jalal is perfect as Bablu’s mother. Her loud and overbearing personality make it seem quite understandable that she would have a son as foolish as Bablu and her rapport with her son comes across clearly. Sonali Bendre is also well cast as the sexy girlfriend Lily, and ably portrays her obvious attraction to bad boy Manu warring with her common sense. Lily is quite aware that Manu takes her for granted and only wants her for one thing, but she still can’t help herself and is irrestibly drawn towards him. Shah Rukh also manages to convey an aura of dangerous desire even though Manu really is quite repulsive with his repetitive tongue flicks and strange sneers.  There is so much detail in Shah Rukh’s performance that it does take a few viewings to fully appreciate every nuance. I love the way that Manu uses a burning TV set to light his cigarette as he leaves the scene of one of his crimes, and also snags some chicken from the table on the way out while Bablu lets every emotion show in his expression, exactly like a small child.

Juhi Chawla is one of my favourite actresses and she is simply wonderful here. I’m not sure how she manages to keep a straight face through some of Shah Rukh’s more insane moments, but she plays Sonia as quite a serious career woman with a tendency to lecture in English. Although I do prefer her romance with Shah Rukh in Yes Boss they still make a sweet couple here. This is my favourite song from the film and I love the way Bablu changes his expression as he looks from Lily to Sonia and also manages to totally change his posture and body language – brilliant!

Apart from the great performances, there are plenty of small touches that make this film appealing. Bablu lives in a very colourful house with a wonderfully brightly painted bathroom and some very groovy pictures on the walls while Manu’s garage has lots of cheery graffiti. The songs by Anu Malik are memorable and the picturisations are all well done with Farah Khan being responsible for the excellent choreography which of course suits Shah Rukh perfectly. Monish Bahl pops up in a small but important role as the hotel manager Ravi Lamba, and Tiku Talsania is very funny in his brief appearance as the bumbling Inspector Thakur. Kajol also appears briefly in a blink and you’ll miss it guest appearance which I didn’t even notice amongst all the other craziness the first time I watched the film. Although there is plenty of slapstick it is used well and there is plenty of comedy in the dialogue and the situations to help stop the film from becoming too farcical – at least until the end. But really, I think it’s Shah Rukh’s performance and his ability to make his characters so appealing despite their flaws that really make this such a watchable film. I can’t say that it’s good because it does have a nonsensical plot and everyone is overacting like crazy. But it is entertaining, it does make me laugh and it’s a film I can watch over and over again without having to resort to the FF button. 4 stars.

Tum Mere Ho (1990)

Aamir Khan, Juhi Chawla and snakes? Sounds like an excellent Nag Panchami Film Fesssstival subject. The film is pretty terrible, but is almost always So Bad It’s Good, and the songs are quite pleasing in both snakey choreography and energy. It may have lost something in translation due to the dodgy quality youtube version with no subs that I watched, but I doubt it.

It seems of late that Aamir has distanced himself from his pre-Lagaan career. But I say let him be known for his heroic role as Shiva the hairy-chested snake charmer who saves his lady love Paro (oh so young and pretty Juhi) from a crazed Snake Queen (Kalpana Iyer).

The film opens with Thakur Chaudhary attempting to steal a Naag Mani by using a very flawed contraption. In the process, he kills a snake and draws the ire of the Snake Queen on his own household.

 

She declares that as he killed her child, she will kill his. And off she goes and bites the young lad as he sleeps.

The weeping parents, with the Snake Queen laughing at their grief, put their son’s corpse on a little raft arrangement, and he is sent off on the currents of the river. Of course he washes up at the feet of the one man who can reverse a death by snake bite. The child lives and grows up to become Shiva (Aamir). He learns to use magical powers that involve him waving a bone and a skull around, and doing lots of fist clenching emoting.

 

He has his uncle, his snakes, a daft sidekick, and is being pursued by the village skank belle. He also has a waistcoat with a snake motif for special occasions.

Everything a boy needs!

Shiva goes into the village for some reason, possibly to deliver a snake, and sees Paro at the fair. He impresses her with his snake, and she is immediately full of dreams of love as well as thoughts of garam garam jalebis and thandi thandi kulfi.

 

My Hindi vocabulary is small and selective so I may not have captured all the nuances of her romantic fantasy. Paro is the daughter of local bigwig Chaudhary Charanjit Singh and is out of Shiva’s league.

No one wants these youngsters to get together and this leads into not entirely boring Romeo and Juliet territory. I was concerned the snake theme may dissipate, but Shiva uses snakes as part of his courtship ritual which was an interesting approach. Paro can’t stop thinking about him, his snake, and possibly those jalebis and so love blooms.

They’re so young! So pretty! He’s in a floral blouse!

Romance blossoms despite Paro’s father arranging attacks on Shiva using black sorcery, beatings and guns.

 

Of course, merely locking Shiva in his room cannot keep them apart, not while clever snake Naga Raj is there to unlock the door.

Shiva’s people want to keep him away from Paro too as they can see she is trouble for their boy.

Shiva and Paro scamper around the forest looking like the poster children for young love and carefree premarital fumbling.

Until the revelation that Paro has been married since she was 3 years old to some unseen Rajput scion. Guess who that boy was? Sigh. Shiva has to perform at her wedding (oh the tragedy!) before Paro is sent to live a widow’s (I’m guessing the widow bit as she wore white, no sindoor, and cried non-stop so it was quite funereal anyway) life at her in-laws and mopes around a lot.

Note: Re the village belle –  Despite her clothing usually erring on the correct side of the fabric to flesh ratio for a snake, she does fail other snake tests and is a Fake Snake.

Anyway Paro’s change of address propels Shiva back to his family home and into Snake Queen territory. He does a lot of pining and trying to lure Paro out with his snake music, which is just asking for trouble.

Naga Raj saves his human from the Snake Queen which made me wonder about the Snake Code and what did a snake have to do for other snakes to turn against it, and did they have to show just cause if they were opposing a more powerful creature?  And also, what were her responsibilities towards lesser snakes? Was she justified in attacking them? It raised so many questions.

I did like this song where the Snake Queen impersonates Juhi, but is caught out by her excessive accessories (compared to the pristine white of the real Paro). She misses a couple of easy bites. I really had to question this whole selective bite placement thing that filmi snakes seem to have.

It emerges that the uncle snake charmer knows Shiva’s real identity. Shiva’s father rejects the idea as some attempt at magic although I wondered if that was really to protect his son given that the vengeful snake was likely to still be around. All unaware of this peril, Shiva and Paro return to the forest and I think they sort of get married. Wedding rituals in the snake charmer village seemed quite straightforward, and there was a robust approach to courtship. Basically, if you can catch your person and subdue them, you’re as good as married.

Having set Naga Raj to wait outside (after a bit of a chat about the privacy required on one’s wedding night), Aamir and Juhi are alone. He does lots of nuzzling and she looks like she has passed out. But the Snake Queen takes the opportunity to attack.

 

Can Shiva’s magical powers save Paro? Will there be flying snakes? Will it involve a ritual both very silly and slightly icky? Will someone go up in a ball of flames? Will people just learn how to get along? What do you think? (If you really have to know, I can’t help you thanks to Shemaroo – who don’t care enough to release decent quality DVDs but will stop you watching this on youtube. Sigh)

This is not a good film but I was entertained enough and don’t regret the time spent. I can’t say that for every film I see! Tahir Hussain hasn’t created a masterpiece but he has made a pretty solid snake revenge romance. The soundtrack by Anand-Milind is pleasant, and there is some nicely energetic dancing. And you know, Aamir, Juhi and those snakes. 2 ½ stars!