Laapataa Ladies is brilliant, true-blue Hindi cinema

Sparsh Shrivastava (centre) excels as the groom deprived of his newlywed bride in Laapataa Ladies. Photo: Spice PR

This film is truly a potent combination of clean and mesmerizing entertainment with a few hard-hitting messages thrown in, to reveal which here would be sacrilegious spoilers. Laapataa Ladies is easily the finest product from Aamir Khan’s production stable since Taare Zameen Par all of 17 years ago. Yes, Dangal comes very close, but Laapataa Ladies ranks higher for me, despite Dangal’s mammoth success.

Set in fictitious Nirmal Pradesh, the film is about how Deepak (Sparsh Shrivastava) gets married to Phool (Nitanshi Goyal) in her village and stays back for some ritual while his family returns to his village, Surajmukhi, which incidentally means the sunflower. Two days later, the newlyweds board a train in which there are two more such couples, each with the bride in red and with a traditional ghunghat (veil) over her face. When the train arrives at the nearest station, Deepak hurriedly tells his bride to alight and pulls her out of the train. But when they reach home, he is alarmed to find that he has brought home the wrong bride!

This girl (Pratibha Ranta) tells the horrified family that her name is Pushpa Rani, hailing from Sambela, whose groom was Pankaj, and she is also lost! Meanwhile, a shattered Phool alights at Pateela station, lost and forlorn, as she does not have a phone, no pictures of her husband, and only knows that his native village is named after a flower. This name she cannot recollect even as the kind stationmaster gives her all the names of nearby villages named after flowers. At the station, she is sheltered by a kind-hearted station tea-stall owner, Manju Maai (Chhaya Kadam) and her assistant, Chotu (Satendra Soni). Phool tells them that her husband will definitely come searching for her. Manju is cynical, though.

Meanwhile, Pushpa Rani settles temporarily in Deepak’s household and befriends his relatives, and an anxious Deepak, aided by his friends, reports the missing bride to the police. Inspector Shyam Manohar (Ravi Kishan) is first amused but soon sets up a fact-finding mission, even more so when he suspects that Pushpa is not her real name and spies on her with his dense assistant, Dubey-ji, and sees her doing suspicious things in the daytime.

Meanwhile, Pradeep (Bhaskar Jha), who is actually Pushpa’s husband and is also searching for her in Pateela, has reported the matter to the cops, and they exchange notes.

So what happens next?

The answer to this question lends the film its gravitas and weight as one of the most cheering, positive and uplifting films I have seen in recent years, and this climax must be watched rather than narrated. What’s more, these last 20 minutes are immensely enlightening and entertaining. A film usually works on the crucial second half, and in this aspect, Laapataa Ladies grows tall from being a mere social serio-comedy to become a powerful document of ills that plague our society, especially but not exclusively, in the hinterlands of the North.

Laapataa Ladies gets its strength from four chief aspects—Kiran Rao’s commanding direction, the superlative screenplay (Sneha Desai from a story by Biplab Goswami), the fantastic and real-life-like dialogues (Sneha with Divyanidhi Sharma), and the pitch-perfect and consummate performances by actors that are nothing less than awe-inspiring in the way they are in tandem with the demands of the director and script. I could even say that we are visiting a kind of Malgudi Days set in North India instead of down South!

The two women who top the game are Nitanshi Goyal and Pratibha Ranta. The latter has a more complex character and towers as Pushpa Rani, while Nitanshi is a delightful natural as the idealistic, coy and not-so-world-wise Phool.

Sparsh Shrivastava as Deepak is another ace up the movie’s sleeve and is perfection personified in his ardent role. The other natural scene-stealers are Ravi Kishan as the determined cop and Chhaya Kadam as Manju Maai. The former has his best scenes in his introduction and the climax, while the latter’s coconut-like persona (a soft temperament within a tough exterior) is a highlight in her sequences with Phool.

However, we see endearing portrayals from everyone else, especially Geeta Agarwal Sharma as Deepak’s mother, Durgesh Kumar as Dubeyji, Kanupriya Rishimum as Bela, Rachna Gupta as Poonam, Satendra Soni as Chotu, Kirti Jain as daadi and Pankaj Sharma as Deepak’s father.

The technical values help to keep the film daisy-fresh and suffused with almost an invigorating aroma of small-town and rural India wherein huts, cattle and soil merge with technology like faxes, mobiles the size of landlines (we are in 2001) and notes on organic farming. The cinematography (Vikash Nowlakha), production design (Vikram Singh), make-up (Kamlesh Shinde) and costumes (Darshan Jalan) couldn’t have been better and the editing by Jabeen Merchant does not have an extra second of footage. A special pat is a timely need for casting agent Romil.

Ram Sampath’s background music is familiar, but within the film, I liked his songs Dheeme dheeme and Doubtva, which see Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh and lyricists Swanand Kirkire and Divyanidhi Sharma (respectively) in great fettle.

Easily a quasi-masterpiece, Laapataa Ladies marks Kiran Rao’s evolution as a master craftsman, no less, after an average Dhobi Ghat. And I must congratulate those who backed this audience-friendly and lovely cinema—Aamir Khan and Jyoti Deshpande.

Aamir Khan Productions’, Kingling Productions’ & Jio Studios’ Laapataa Ladies  Produced by: Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao & Jyoti Deshpande  Directed by: Kiran Rao Written by: Biplab Goswami, Sneha Desai & Divyanidhi Sharma  Music: Ram Sampath  Starring: Nitanshi Goyal, Pratibha Ranta, Sparsh Shrivastava, Chhaya Kadam, Ravi Kishan, Rachna Gupta, Geeta Agrawal Sharma, Satendra Soni, Abeer Jain, Bhaskar Jha, Daood Hussain, Durgesh Kumar, Kanupriya Rishimum, Savita Malaviya, Ravi Kapadiya, Narendra Khatri, Kishore Soni, Sundar Likhar, Balram Ji & others




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