In a scene early on in ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ (ELKDTAL), Sweety (Sonam K. Ahuja), a chance spectator of writer Sahil Mirza’s (Rajkummar Rao) play, tells him why it doesn’t work for her — the love story doesn’t have enough siyappa (trouble, turbulence). “Feels kaise aayegi (how will you get the right feeling for the romance)?” she asks rhetorically. That’s exactly what is amiss in ELKDTAL itself.
ELKDTAL which is a queer romance, in which opposition, struggles and conflict are a given, is curiously lacking in any intrinsic sense of unrest or tumult. There are hardly any major highs and lows, no great crests and troughs, no stirring situations, hardly any rousing emotions and a perennially yelling brother for the sole adversary. No wonder the audience is left largely disengaged and unconcerned about Sweety and her lover Kuhu (Regina Cassandra). In fact, the two hardly get any screen time together to make one get any sense of their relationship.
Cassandra lights up the screen in the 10-15 minutes we see her on screen. But the focus is entirely on Sweety and Ahuja, proves utterly inept in giving depth or nuance to her character, especially in the “big reveal” moment that plays out stone cold. The unrequited childhood love, the realisation of being “alag” (different), of not being able to “fit in”, the accompanying loneliness and a life lived in the folds of a diary — there is enough angst and anxiety, conflict and introspection here but it never reaches out, instead it gets reduced to a teary-eyed tepidness and an all-pervasive moroseness in the hands of Ahuja. The resolution is just as bland (and also way too easily negotiated) like the rest of the narrative itself. It’s also a bit of a cop out what with the papa doing all the preaching and the daughter weeping on and on.
It’s the seniors then — Chhatro (Juhi Chawla), Balli (Anil Kapoor) and Gifty (Madhumalti Kapoor) — who appear more spunky and progressive than the younger lot. One has divorced her husband, to live on her own terms after 22 years of devoting herself to others. Another breaks the gender divide by manning the kitchen, traditionally considered the woman’s zone and the third has the crushes of her youth as her passwords. Despite being caricaturised, they still manage to hold thanks to the reliable threesome. Then there’s the tried and tested Rajkummar Rao who adds whatever little heft there is to the film and manages to convey the “feels” with just one look or two. If only all the characters surrounding Sweety had been fully formed, and their stories better explored! And we haven’t even come to the virtuoso supporting cast yet — Seema Pahwa and Brijendra Kala — who are reduced to mere props.
Perhaps the overtly righteous sense of cause — no doubt significant and much needed — becomes too much of a burden and gets the better of the filmmaking itself. ELKDTAL might be bringing a “new story” to Bollywood but plays out too flat, lightweight and facile to be of any consequence. Tell us another love story, please.