Let me start by saying that this is not a review of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga; I am simply capturing the experience of watching a mainstream Hindi film depicting same sex relationships. When the trailer first aired a few months ago, I was both excited and scared once I realised what the movie was going to be about.
Reading some of the reviews before I went to watch the film, it seemed clear that critics aren’t too impressed with Sonam Kapoor’s acting and the screenplay. But, having watched the film today, I honestly don’t think I can evaluate the film objectively, because – as a queer woman – I’m just plain happy!
Just the sheer joy of seeing two women in a romantic/sexual context in mainstream Hindi cinema was enough for me to overlook the movie’s many cinematic flaws. As someone who grew up craving Indian queer content in films and television, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga – with all its clichés and its reluctance to depict same sex desire in all its raw complexity – still fulfilled my long-held wish. A heterosexual person, no matter how great a film reviewer she might be, will never get it. She will never understand what it felt to see Sweety and Kuhu riding a bike on Delhi roads or just chilling at Hauz Khas.
We could argue forever about Sweety’s timidity, her problematic articulation of ‘normal’, the film’s squeamish handling of Sweety and Kuhu’s romance and Kapoor’s poor acting skills, but these things all underestimate the power of representation.
In fact, the film did touch upon many relevant issues, including bullying in schools; upper caste and class families’ complete silence on sexuality; the violence women face for their choices; how homosexuality is still seen as a ‘medical disorder’. Each of these issues was touched up but not delved into – maybe because of a lack of time or the writer’s discretion. And yet, instead of dissatisfaction, I felt mostly kinship. A queer woman feeling trapped in heteronormative patriarchal family structures, surviving by stifling her desire, is a deeply resonant story for so many of us.
The film also played to this identification by enclosing a play within the movie, where both worked towards the same goal – raising awareness – thus blurring the distinction between the play’s audience in the movie and the audience watching the film.
However, my biggest gripe with the film isn’t the main character’s treatment but the normalised othering of ‘Mussalmans’ in this and other films – and our lives as well. The constant references to Rajkumar Rao’s character as a ‘Mussalman’– and the assumption that the hetero pairing would never happen – is not questioned or challenged in the movie.
I understand that the director tried to use the hierarchy of prejudice as a trigger, creating a difficult choice between an inter-religious heterosexual match and a homosexual relationship. In the movie, the families could still accept the former, but in our ‘New India’ one can’t be so sure.
It should also be noted that the film was written and shot before the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalised consensual same sex , was struck down on 6th September, 2018. That may explain why the movie handles Sweety and Kuhu’s relationship with kid gloves – as if the director was too scared to show their love story as anything other than a romantic relationship.
The movie is almost apologetic in its depiction of this love, but again, the fact that a mainstream Hindi film is openly talking about same sex relationships is undeniably good stuff. I frequently think that we, as queer persons, often have limited – or zero – expectations from our families, relatives, colleagues and, most importantly, state institutions.
I didn’t expect much from this film, despite being excited for it. But I was pleasantly surprised. It’s definitely not a Brokeback Mountain or a Moonlight, but it’s a start. I know that it’s 2019 and we should be developing unabashedly queer content. Still, as a queer woman, watching Sweety struggle to come to terms with her sexuality and her joy at being with Kuhu – seeing my own experiences portrayed on the big screen – is a good enough start for me.
I watched the film in a south Delhi theatre, expecting an empathetic audience. However, when Sweety revealed that she’s into women, both Rao’s character Sahil Mirza, and the theatre’s audience laughed out loud, as if it was a ‘joke’. Later in the film Sahil apologises to Sweety for laughing and not understanding her. The audience did not apologise. I hope in their hearts, they do, someday.
Amritananda Chakravorty is a queer woman living in Delhi.
Featured image credit: Instagram