Laapataa Ladies demurs and unveils destinies

In Laapataa Ladies, entrenched stereotypes are challenged boldly. The film confronts the notion that labeling a girl as “over smart” or a woman as “cunning” perpetuates outdated beliefs. It emphatically argues that the idea of a “respectable” girl serves as a facade, discouraging her from challenging societal norms. Set in rural India,Kiran Rao returns to directing following a 14 year break. 

Derived from a narrative by Biplab Goswami and crafted by Sneha Desai, Rao employs the โ€œghoonghatโ€ (veil) as a symbol with dual implications in her film. Recently wedded brides Phool Kumari and Jaya, their faces concealed beneath matching red veils drawn down to their chins, encounter a dilemma: one finds herself stranded at a station, while the other arrives at the wrong in-law’s house, causing widespread dismay. Phool struggles to recall her husband’s village name, while the educated Jaya endeavors to keep herself veiled, with her motives unveiled progressively. 

The scenario of a man visiting a police station to report his wife as ‘missing’ may initially seem like the opening line of a humorous WhatsApp joke.Likewise,we come to meet the jovially corrupt officer in charge of the station Ravi Kishen, where Phool’s distraught husband Deepak arrives to lodge a missing personโ€™s report. Revealing the casual misogyny among the police, the imbalanced power dynamics in institutions meant to provide justice, and the treatment of women both within households and in public spaces, are all integral elements of Rao’s narrative strategy.

Poor Phool, abandoned to navigate an unfamiliar environment in the railway station, meets Manju Maai, who manages a railway platform tea and snacks stall. Weathered by life’s challenges, Manju, opts for solitude over enduring disrespect and domestic abuse.She teaches Phool the importance of not letting matrimony become a millstone around a girlโ€™s neck.

In her compassionate portrayal, Rao highlights that achievement and personal fulfillment can manifest in various forms beyond successful jobs and innovations. For Phool, finding empowerment comes from her work at a snack stall, creating kalakand (an Indian dessert), and earning her own income. Similarly, Jaya dreams of pursuing education and pioneering in organic farming. While one finds contentment in marriage, the other views it as a hindrance to her aspirations. 

Amidst the trials faced by the two brides, the film manages to carve out spaces of hope amidst despair. It fearlessly confronts patriarchal norms, the scourge of dowry, domestic abuse, and the stifling gender roles imposed on women within marriage. Like characters in an Imtiaz Ali film, despite the chaos of their circumstances, the two brides find their self worth and true destinations . Laapataa Ladies beautifully depicts to us that being constantly judgemental of what a woman chooses is a more heinous crime than overprotecting and underestimating her always. Sometimes, clarity requires bold declarations. Only then we can discover a newfound sense of identity and self worth. 

Tagabun Taharim

Tagabun Taharim is the Editor-in-chief at BRACU Express. She is a junior majoring in Electrical and Electronic Engineeing at BRAC University. Amidst the bustling thoughts constantly weaving through her mind, she seeks refuge in the realm of dreams, often pausing to indulge in her affection for the canvas of the sky and the mesmerizing hues of sunsets, evoking a profound fondness for all things celestial. Reach her at tagabun.taharim.titun@g.bracu.ac.bd

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