Young Nitanshi Goel, Pratibha Ranta are mighty impressive, but it’s seasoned actor Ravi Kishan who leaves you in splits. The satirical film tackles patriarchy in a dignified way.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

Kiran Rao returns to direction after 13 years with Laapataa Ladies [2024]. The original story is penned by Biplab Goswami, who had submitted it for a screenwriting contest in 2018. Aamir Khan was one of the judges. Khan, and his now former wife Kiran Rao, had loved the story that they decided to make it. Six years later, Goswami’s dream has come true. However, in an recent interview, Rao disclosed that initially this story had some dark element to it. She roped in Sneha Desai to write the screenplay, with additional dialogues by Divyanidhi Sharma. The final outcome was no dark tale, but a satirical drama.

Set in 2001, Rao largely stays clear of taking real names of places. This story is set in one Nirmal Pradesh. Given how the state of Madhya Pradesh is thanked in the opening credits, we presume this story to be based in central India states.

Though set in Hindi heartland, Rao and her writers are mindful of keeping the humble accents, but not burdening their cast with heavy local language.

Satire is never easy to pull off. The key is never to be direct or preachy. Before Rao’s ladies go laapataa (missing), there is a defining scene that captivates your imagination. The bride Phool (Nitanshi Goel) is walking behind her groom. A travelling member remarks that once a woman dons the ghunghat (veil), she isn’t supposed to look up, but walk with her eyes facing the ground. Poor Phool would never dare to bring any dishonour to her family or in-laws.

From now on, she wouldn’t lift the ghunghat at all, not till she lands in her husband’s home (room). Little is she aware that this very ghunghat would soon become the cause of despair. Phool isn’t the only veiled bride in the General Compartment of the railway train. Confusion is bound to follow, one that sees Deepak (Sparsh Shrivastava) bring home the wrong bride. When poor Phool wakes up, she finds herself lost in a place she has never heard off. Meanwhile, Pushpa (Pratibha Ranta), the wrong bride, isn’t as worried as Phool. That’s Laapataa Ladies in a nutshell.

Among the two brides, Phool is laapataa in true sense. Lost geographically, women like Phool have inadvertently accepted patriarchy as tradition. The Kiran Rao film subtly passes the message of right to dignity, education, self-reliance.

Laapata Ladies doesn’t openly condemn any practice of veil. It, however, subtly tells you that if a phool (flower) doesn’t blossom, how will it spread its beauty? Nature allows every living organism to express itself. Then why should humans hold themselves back? We reiterate, the film doesn’t call for any blanket ban on veils, it simply encourages open minds. The veil is just part of it as Laapataa Ladies also harps on the usual social ills – dowry, lust, corruption. Rao doesn’t wield any stick to hammer home her point. She wisely banks on satire to get the humane message(s) across. Sneha Desai and Divyanidhi Sharma’s quality writing, endearing dialogues go a long way in achieving the social goals. Rao’s highly skillful cast does the rest.

Nitanshi Goel (L)

Young Nitanshi Goel began her career as a child artiste. This is said to be her maiden role as a leading actress. She wins over you with her rustic innocence. Her delightful tone is so child-like. Though now a bride, poor Phool has this look of a lost child. That scene when she runs away seeing a crippled beggar at the Pateela station, rekindles childhood memories. She is so tender, so pure, a modicum of innocence. Phool jaisi nahi, phool hi hai, balki phool si bachhi hai (She is like a flower, like a tender child) . We constantly got that feeling while watching Goel. In fact, we feared whether we’re witnessing any balika vadhu (child marriage).

Pratibha Ranta in Laapataa Ladies [2024]

If Goel evoked paternal feelings,  your reviewer is crushing over Pratibha Ranta. Phew, such an enchanting beauty, terrific screen presence. More importantly, backed by the requisite intensity. Her character Pushpa Rani has more to her than it meets the eye. We, however, wonder whether her Krishi vidya was cultivated organically or part of any ‘subsidised’ entertainment? Whatever, but it grows on you as Ranta is compelling, near flawless in her overall act.

Ravi Kishan in Laapataa Ladies [2024]

The Laapataa Ladies cast a spell on you, but it is Ravi Kishan who will have you in splits. Kishan’s cop avatar Shyam Manohar is shrewd, an opportunist, but very realistic. His conversations, conduct, tone is classic daroga (a term used for cops in Hindi heartland). Much of the humour is derived from the tough predicament that daroga ji finds himself in whilst dealing with the tale of the laapataa ladies (missing women).

Here’s Pushpa Rani refusing to get clicked for fear of social condemnation. A peeved Manohar then chides, “Doctor aur daroga se kabhi kuch chupana nahi chahiye” (Never hide anything from doctors or cops). Manohar’s conversations with Deepak, Pushpa, constable Dubey leave you ROFL. None of them are trying to be funny. It’s pure sitcom at play. Another brilliant display by Kishan that is testimony to his talent and experience. Wish the Bhojpuri star could get more such plum opportunities in Bollywood.

Sparsh Shrivastava nails his big chance with a convincing act. Geeta Agarwal is increasingly becoming the resident small town mother in Bollywood. Child artiste Satinder Soni, and Chhaya Kadam are unmissable. Each and every member of the cast does a fine job.

The film has no flaw per se, but a couple of things got us curious. A helpless Deepak reaches out to the local politician for help. He is asked to come on stage, where the politician gets Phool’s name completely wrong. Netaji milks Deepak’s despair for vested interest when he states that the opposition party has allegedly abducted Deepak’s wife, and this incident is another example of democracy dying in this country. Haven’t we heard this from the opposition in the last ten years?

Then there is probably a veiled dig at Sandeep Reddy Vanga. Leading up to Laapataa Ladies’ release, we had a war of words between Rao and the Animal director. If we recall well, Laapataa Ladies briefly mentions how a man has the right to raise hand at a woman, without it, there is no love. Didn’t Vanga say something similar in an infamous interview with a noted broadcast journalist?

None of the above observations, though, derail the primary storytelling. The Kiran Rao directorial is rich in creativity, and also impressive in its technical aspect – production/sound design, cinematography, BGM. The playback music, too, is endearing with Sukhwinder’s Doubtwa track being a crowd favourite. The end credits throw up beautiful sketches.

Though just two films as director, Rao’s cinema is rooted.  Being a satire, Laapataa Ladies inevitably scores over a Dhobi Ghat [2011]. Good content, good cast, humour, but more importantly, Laapataa Ladies strikes the right conversations.

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