Home » Hitch, glitch, switch: Kiran Rao’s new film has everyone in splits

Hitch, glitch, switch: Kiran Rao’s new film has everyone in splits

by Stewart Cole

There is no recognizable star in Laapataa Ladies, or Lost Ladies as it was titled for its world premiere and subsequent screenings at the 48th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Yet the film sparkles like a starry night sky over a village, its glow unhindered by the light pollution of a metropolis.

Kiran Rao’s first directorial venture after her 2010 debut Dhobi Ghat is, at 122 minutes, short and often sweet. Two young gunghat-clad brides end up with the wrong grooms at a small-town railway station. Pushpa has a hidden agenda to get off the train with Deepak, who is not her husband. Meanwhile, Deepak’s bride, the more awkward Phul, is found abandoned on the platform. When they are lost, both women find themselves – behind this hilariously twisted story is a story of hopes and identities that lie beyond domestic bliss.

The film’s writer Sneha Desai built her screenplay from a story by Biplab Goswami. “This is her debut as a writer, and she’s just remarkable,” says Rao. Desai’s experience as an actor, writer and theater director gave the film the wit and bite that makes the absurd story work. “She’s great with dialogue. He brought life to the script and created this journey full of twists and turns,” adds Rao.

Set in the fictional state of Nirmal Pradesh, Laapataa Ladies tells the story of two young brides who end up with the wrong grooms at a railway station. In being lost, both women find themselves. (Jio Studios and Kindling Pictures)

Laapataa Ladies is set in the fictional state of Nirmal Pradesh and was shot in two villages and a small town in central India. Crucially, it takes place in the winter of 2001, a time before smartphones and WhatsApp could clear up any confusion about the locations and identities of brides. “We did a little calculation based on how mobiles would have penetrated the hinterland and villages,” says Rao. The turn of the millennium seemed appropriate for the story. “Mobile phones already existed in India, but they were rare in rural India and could be given as dowry. We wanted to show the innovation of a mobile phone.”

The vivid beauty of the countryside is a plus, as is Ram Sampath’s folksy, catchy soundtrack. “The story is so genuine and rooted, we wanted the cast to be very authentic, very believable, of this world,” says Rao. Television actor Pratibha Ranta and teenage actor Nitanshi Goel play Pushpa and Phool respectively. Sparsh Shrivastava (who played the young brain in Jamtara 2) plays Deepak. They are roped in with veteran character actor Chhaya Kadam (Jawan, Gangubai Kathiawadi, Andhadhun) who has been cast as the station’s tea stall owner. Ravi Kishan comes across as a corrupt cop but has a sense of humor and gets some of the best lines.

The film Laapataa Ladies opens in theaters in India in January. (Jio Studios and Kindling Pictures)

It’s the small nuances, down to the small-town mannerisms and dialects, that make the absurd story believable and the message of self-discovery easier to grasp. “Naturally, we wanted to develop a lot of ideas, themes and issues, and along the way, use humor to address them,” says Rao. “Humor is a great vehicle for any kind of message because it disarms you.” At the festival, there was plenty of laughter and applause, a win for producers Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao and Jyoti Deshpande.

Meenakshi Shedde, TIFF’s senior program advisor for South Asia, describes Laapataa Ladies as a “delicious comedy” that “weaves in strong social and feminist commentary.” The film opens in theaters in India in January. It is a world away from Rao’s Dhobi Ghat, but one India will find familiar.

By HT Brunch, September 23, 2023

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