Monday, April 22, 2019

REVIEW: Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (live action movie)

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is an Indian Hindi-language family drama/comedy with lesbian romantic elements. According to Wikipedia, it's the first Bollywood movie featuring a lesbian relationship. The movie itself treats the revelation that Sweety is a lesbian like a spoiler, since it isn't revealed until halfway through, which makes me wonder how it was marketed.

At any rate, the story: It begins at a wedding. Sweety is clearly uncomfortable as various people suggest that she should get married too. And hey, that guy over there would be a great candidate! He's going to London, and maybe she could go with him. Then the movie skips forward to the present. Sweety is running from someone and has briefly hidden inside a theater where a rehearsal is taking place. The play's writer, Sahil, helps her escape from a man who he later learns is her brother. From that point on, all Sahil can think about is seeing Sweety again.

The first half of the movie is a traditional "boy meets girl, complications ensue that prevent them from being together" story. Sweety's brother lies about what's really going on, leading his father to think that Sweety was trying to elope with a Muslim man, Sahil. Sahil thinks he and Sweety somehow fell in love during the few moments they spent together and hatches a plan to see her again. And poor Sweety is stuck in the middle of it all.

Since Netflix tagged the movie as LGBTQ, I thought I had an idea of what sort of overall story to expect, and I got a bit impatient with the first half. I wasn't expecting it to take so long for the actual person Sweety loved to enter the picture (or, more accurately, re-enter the picture, since she was briefly there at the beginning).

It's best not to go into this thinking that you'll be getting a lesbian romance. There are flashbacks showing how Sweety and Kuhu fell in love, and Kuhu shows up later on for a storyline in which Sahil tries to help her and Sweety out, but this is more a story about Sweety, her experience with growing up as a closeted lesbian, and her relationship with her father and brother.

The movie's overall message is a bit heavy-handed, but also earnest and heartfelt. When Sweety first tells Sahil that she likes women, he laughs at her. Sweety's family will only accept a "fictional" lesbian love story if it's presented as a comedy. By contrast, Sweety and Kuhu's relationship is never once presented to the audience as something to be laughed at - the audience is asked to take them and what they're going through seriously.

I appreciated that Sahil's plan to help Sweety and Kuhu became a team effort, with Sweety offering her old diaries, her own words and feelings, as inspiration for Sahil's writing. I also appreciated that the movie gave viewers a happy ending but didn't succumb to the temptation to make it 100% unicorns and flowers - Sweety's story got through to some folks but couldn't reach everybody, including her own brother.

I just wish that Sweety and Kuhu's romance had been the actual story, rather than just background. By the end of the movie, I barely knew anything about Kuhu. Did her own family know that she was a lesbian? Were they supportive?

At any rate, I liked the movie overall, but the second half was definitely stronger than the first.

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