Laapataa Ladies review: Kiran Rao aces her comeback with fun, sharp, moving film made even better by its young actors

Laapataa Ladies is the perfect comeback Kiran Rao could have had, a fun-yet-thoughtful satire elevated by its young actors' brilliant performances.

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Laapataa Ladies is Kiran Rao's first directorial in 13 years

Director: Kiran Rao

Cast: Sparsh Srivastava, Pratibha Ranta, Nitanshi Goel, Ravi Kishan

Where to watch: Theatres

Rating: 4.5 stars

Upon watching Laapataa Ladies, one struggles to understand how this is Kiran Rao’s second film and that too, one after a 13-year-gap. The filmmaker makes a splendid return to the director’s chair with a near-perfect film. More than the technicalities, what makes Laapataa Ladies so special is that it is a rare thing, a film with a soul, and one that is made better by a great script and amazing performances. And the cherry on top of this delicious cake is that the performances largely come from three young, new actors, who so ably carry the film on their shoulders.

Laapataa Ladies is about two women – Phool and Pushpa – who are young brides that are swapped in a classic case of mistaken identity. A sharp jibe at the purdah system – be it ghoonghat or hijab – the film utilises the lost-and-found trope quite beautifully, and then extends it beyond the predictable territory. Laapataa Ladies makes you laugh, revisit your biases, and chuckle at some clever jibes along the way. But as the film nears its end, it makes you tear up and applaud, both for the characters and the makers for believing in such a simple yet powerful story.

Laapataa Ladies is more than just what you see on the screen. This film is a metaphor to all the ladies who are ‘laapataa’ (invisible) from positions they need to be at – be it the workforce or positions of power or anywhere where their skill and talent ought to take them. The film emphasises on these points sometimes subtly – like Phool learning her worth and importance gradually – and sometimes quite bluntly – like the protagonist hiding a dustbin that says ‘use me’. The finesse with which Laapataa Ladies does it – without resorting to dialoguebaazi and sermonising – is what makes the film so delightful and light.

It is hard to box Laapataa Ladies in a genre. Is it a social drama, a satire, or a thriller? The truth is that is a story, a well-told one, in the tradition of the tales we told each other around the fire in caves centuries and millennia ago. What it does is that it brings those diverse genres and blends them seamlessly. Even the suspense in the film is built up quite nicely without giving much away. And the reveal is not just unpredictable but also poignant.

The writing is the true winner of the film, building situations that make this outlandish tale firmly rooted in our reality. Setting it in the early 2000s – the era before the mobile boom – also makes it more believable. The cinematography complements this writing quite nicely, using real locales to build this world so beautifully. And then Kiran Rao weaves her magic to make it all come alive, giving us the best film of the year (so far).

The three leads – all played by actors between ages 17 and 24 – come across as seasoned actors. Sparsh Srivastava has already impressed us in Jamtara. Here, he plays Deepak, a man tormented by the guilt of having ‘lost’ his bride, and also the ignonimy of having unwittingly ‘abducted’ someone else’s. The young actor breathes the character, bringing his frustration, love, and determination all to the fore. Nitanshi Goel is a revelation. As the teenage bride stranded on a railway platform all alone and with no worldly knowledge, she charts her character’s growth so brilliantly that actors twice her age can take notes. And Pratibha Ranta almost threatens to steal the show with the meatiest character of them all. She is great in the subtle scenes and brilliant in the more dramatic showdowns.

Complementing these three is a range of stalwarts, led so ably by Ravi Kishan, who plays a corrupt local cop Inspector Manohar. His earthiness, comic timing, and flawless delivery make this character so above stereotypes and quite memorable. Giving the film its moral compass is Chhaya Kadam, who steals the show with one line, a classic riposte to domestic abuse apologists.

Laapataa Ladies is a rare thing, like I said. But in more ways than one. In today’s climate, we would bracket such a film as an ‘OTT-type film’, something that content-based, non-starry film have been reduced too. But it deserves to be so much more. It is a good film that deserves its day in the theatres, reminding audiences that sometimes good stories need their day in the sun too.

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