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'Lapatta Ladies' - A literal and figurative love letter for Indian Women

By Srishti Jayin

“Lapatta Ladies” is rooted in simplicity, as indicated by its literal translation that suggests a story about "missing women." This is precisely what the film is about. Kiran Rao returns to the directorial chair after her spectacular, humane debut, ‘Dhobi Ghat’, which told a story of a very different socio-cultural class in India. While metropolitan stories are filled with layers of grief, anxiety, and despair of modern life, ‘Lapatta Ladies’ delves into a world where the bare minimum is unknown. However, Kiran Rao's keen filmmaker's gaze, with her emotional play being the crux of her screenplay, is evident in both her films.

Aamir Khan and his social consciousness have been at the forefront of his production house, from ‘Peepli Live’ and ‘Taare Zameen Par’ to ‘Satyamev Jayate’. ‘Lapatta Ladies’ resides in that milieu of storytelling where the oddities of real life ensure both a humorous tale told with a sensitive lens and a compelling message for the future.

The film grabs you from its very first frame of a wedding invitation, telling you that Deepak is getting married to Phool and you are invited. This visual filmmaking, where everything is spelled out, carries the narrative on its shoulders, making it both compelling and accessible to a large audience in our country. You are introduced to Phool, portrayed by the young, doe-eyed Nitanshi Goel, who is leaving her parents' home in an obscure village. This could be anywhere in the Indian landscape of unnamed clusters of inhabitants, surviving and passing on their own rules of life and existence. As Phool leaves, her mother puts the veil on her head and instructs her to learn to look down and walk because she can only be unveiled once she reaches her husband's house. This premise lends itself to the comedy of errors, which results in the switch of brides on the train.

As Deepak brings the wrong bride home, we are introduced to the feisty trailblazer Jaya, who rechristens herself ‘Pushpa’. We mark the ticking time bomb of how long it will take for Phool and Deepak to reunite, however unwilling we are to send Jaya to her chauvinist husband (whose ill intentions are evident from the very first dialogue he says). The casting of even the most minute parts feels like it is from a neo-realist film. From the kid who finds Phool at the station to Chhaya Kadam, who plays Manju Taai (the rough around the edges but worldly mentor) that provides Phool with the knowledge of independence and a safe place to lay at night, the casting of ‘Lapatta Ladies’ is where the heart of the film lies. I found myself awestruck at some of the faces in the background, at the effortlessness with which the performances came through, and the minor quirks that made these characters memorable. There is an attention to detail that women filmmakers possess when they tell stories, which is often missing in most men.

From the chiffon floral sarees to the floral tea cups juxtaposed against the floral curtain. From the steel tumblers to the sterile stench of the railway station at dawn, punctuated with the sweetened aroma of freshly brewed tea that engulfs the tired passengers, ‘Lapatta Ladies’ and its design offer a visceral experience for any Indian watching it. Having grown up in Bombay, I have an affiliation to railway stations; I believe they are the safest places to be on a rainy night and the scariest places to be at 9 am on a weekday. But watching Phool run helter-skelter, knowing where she came from, my heart went out to her innocence and ignorance. It also went out to Deepak, who is forced to grow up in a matter of days after he commits this blunder and is now responsible for the lives of two women: one he loves and the other he has to get home.

Sparsh Shrivastava is magnificent; his earnest face, coupled with a performance that vigorously tries to prove his ability as Deepak tries to make things right, is unforgettable. However, what holds this story together, and cements it as a film that is both entertaining and subtly educational, is the dialogues by Sneha Desai. There are dialogues written to rhyme, scenes that are whistle-worthy, and those that bring a tear to your eye just because of how honestly they speak of the trials of womanhood matter-of-factly. I was left speechless at the variety of brilliance I was listening to on screen. Scenes like Jaya telling Deepak’s bhabhi, who is a young woman herself, to make art for her own pleasure (because she is good at it) and not everyone is an artist, while she has the talent because god intended for her to use it. Or Jaya saying her husband's name, which throws everyone into a tizzy because a woman is taught not to say their husband's names, which is then juxtaposed with Phool at the station, unwilling to take her husband's name and instead using her mehendi to communicate it. The film uses these two women from the same milieu to describe how circumstances don’t define an individual; it’s the willingness to change and the determination to break the glass ceiling that drives true change and reform in an individual's life. Jaya is determined to learn, be curious, circumvent her situation, and set herself free through education because she wants to explore the world beyond, while Phool learns that although she was trained to serve the needs of her husband's home, she too can survive if she learns to be independent from him and serve herself too.

"Lapatta Ladies" is nuanced storytelling that inspires and mirrors the Indian woman's conditioning of living in the shadows of patriarchy. All I could think of leaving the theater after the film was of a young Phool watching the film in a small city. She will come with her husband to the theaters, they will laugh at their own social conditioning, and leave the theater feeling seen, confident, and comfortable to confront their dreams; while believing they are worth more than they give themselves credit for. I can't recommend this film enough. Take your mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and maybe you will help them uncover their suppressed desires and unveil their missing selves.


About the Author

Srishti Jayin is a feminist, filmmaker, writer, film-theorist who is interested in narratives about the female experience. She has worked in the hindi film industry on shows like Made in Heaven and films like Newton, Tumbbad, Dedh ishqiya, Fukrey. She has directed a show called, 'Hindmata' on Eros Now and her recent work includes the Amazon prime show 'Big girls don't cry' in which she was the 2nd unit director. She is currently writing her feature film and is pursuing her third masters degree in clinical psychology.  Follow her on Instagram @Humheroine 



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