Homosexuality is not new in Bollywood in the broad sense. In films like ‘Fire’, ‘Margarita with a Straw’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Aligarh’ and ‘Kapoor and Sons’, homosexual characters are played in a positive or neutral light.
Movies about overtly-excited Punjabi families, grand scenes from the heartland of Punjab, a girl being stalked by her hero, a one-sided love story, a love triangle, and even a love story between a Hindu and a Muslim are as old as Bollywood itself.
So what makes ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aida Laga’, by director Shelly Chopra Dhar and screenplay writer Gazal Dhaliwal, unique?
Note: Dhaliwal, a transwoman, has had an inspiring journey to becoming a screenplay writer and you can read all about her here.
The latest Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Rajkummar Rao starrer movie kicks off with a narrative not too different from what Bollywood film fans love.
Sonam’s character, Sweety, is a Punjabi girl in love with the idea of love and marriage from a very young age. Her family is equally obsessed with getting her married.
There are enough ‘normal’ (read: stereotypical) scenes to make the mainstream Bollywood fan comfortable. While for some this is a deal breaker, for most it is the perfect opportunity to leave stress outside the theatre halls and enjoy the drama.
Most moviegoers are comfortable with this idea. And that’s why they come to watch it over and over again. And it is precisely this aspect that I wish to highlight about ELKDTAL.
The normality aside, from the very first trailer, we all knew there was something unique about this. The end of the trailer featured a shot of Sweety running, offering her hand to a girl running with her.
This shot, and a few other subtle dots scattered throughout the film hint at the actual plot. This isn’t a story about a loud Punjabi family and a shy Sikh girl eventually falling in love with a Muslim playwright.
It’s a lesbian love story—packaged within precisely the kind of setting, style and drama that appeals to so many millions of India’s filmgoers.
So ELKDTAL, in its simplest sense, will attract the attention of tens of thousands (if not lakhs) of mainstream Bollywood fans to the lives and challenges of the LGBTQ+ community – and the perfectly relatable stigma they face looking for love.
And if packaged ‘right’, there is nothing Indians love more than a love story against the odds.
Films that are based on social issues like gender and sexuality are important for sure. But they mainly attract an audience that already supports the cause. This is due to many factors – low budget, a tone that appropriately reflects the dire seriousness of the subject matter and a general style that is at odds with the usual fare on offer.
While this in no way undermines the importance of such films, ELKDTAL is one of the few (along with than the recent ‘Kapoor and Sons’) that has the potential of spreading this crucial message to non-supporters or those on the fence – by simply making it fun to watch.
You watch it because it seems fun and you learn something while having fun. It is not a classroom lecture. It is just ‘recreation’ that has the potential of going very far indeed.
Interestingly, beneath this, the movie has another message for movie makers and filmgoers as well.
For decades, we have been watching toxic leads stalk their love interest, sing derogatory songs and molest women on screen.
Somewhere, subconsciously, this has become a norm for men and women to follow.
“He’s teasing (read harassing) you because he likes you,” is a common message that goes around and it is a result of such a toxic culture.
If more movies like ELKDTAL are produced and brought into the mainstream, maybe there will be a paradigm shift in this subliminal message.
We spoke to 25-year-old Siddhant Kodlekere who identifies as a cis-gendered gay man about the film. “I feel if the entire topic of homosexuality is taken up like this, maybe there are chances of it coming into the mainstream popular cinema, without making it awkward for everyone else, or without shoving it in their faces.
But if you bring the entire topic of LGBTQIA+ into the mainstream perspective, it will just put it one step forward that ‘this is as normal as any other film you watch’.
I think the stellar cast of the movie, also with someone of Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla stature and respect related to this, will surely help the industry in relation to the upcoming movies for the LGBTQ+ community,” he told us.
With ELKDTAL, 2019 seems to be a promising year as well, with inspiring movies that you must watch- whether for its masala or its message.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)