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Laapataa Ladies: Mistaken roads open appropriate doors

by Sanika Ratnaparkhi

“One is not born, but rather becomes a woman,” wrote Simone de Beauvoir in her novel, The Second Sex. Directed by Kiran Rao and starring Nitanshi Goel, Pratibha Ranta, Sparsh Shrivastava, and Chhaya Kadam, Laapataa Ladies is a masterpiece that truly highlights this statement of Beauvoir. The movie comments on multiple things: the lost identities, the courage and will to reach the goal, and the stark difference between two genders dwelling in rural areas through the lens of feminism.

Jaya and Phool Kumari are two protagonists who are way too different from each other. While one seeks her lost husband and his village, the other one seeks herself and her new address. In spite of the differences, Nitanshi Goel and Pratibha Ranta are both connected by hope for a better future and belief in themselves. Aren’t these two also the pillars of feminism? Pratibha, playing the character of Jaya, is a courageous, well-educated, and thoughtful woman who identifies patriarchy and sees a problem in it. Meanwhile, Phool Kumari is a naïve, adrift, yet extremely determined and smart bride who believes in her husband and knows he will arrive. Phool makes us realise, feminism is not always about being eternally independent, at times it can also mean being independent till the right man arrives. Other than these two, Pushpa Rani is the third imaginary woman whose identity captures much of the plot, triggering the plot just at the right time.

Rather than being explicit about her message, Rao chooses to portray it subtly through the small nuances of the characters, making the movie a piece of social comedy. In Laapataa Ladies, there is a scene where Deepak knocks on a door, asking for Phool’s whereabouts and showing her picture in a veil. The other man chuckles and says, “Arey ghoongat se to face dhaka hua hai, face dhakna matlab pehechan dhakna,” and as one is about to appreciate his thought process, his wife, wearing a burkha, enters the scene. Rao intentionally lets the scene pass by, subtly marking men’s double standards.

The director has strategically shown women adhering to different shades, exploring different facets of feminism. Apart from the two female protagonists, there are multiple female characters that are absolute show stealers. One of them is Manju Maai, played by Chhaya Kadam. Manju Maai is a woman who has tasted life and is also tested by life. She stands for independence, teaching Phool to earn a living, to live a life on one’s own terms, and to be happy in the company of oneself. She makes Phool realise the abilities of womanhood; she says, “If you think about it, women don’t really need men at all. But if women figured this out, men would be screwed, wouldn’t they?”

It would not be an overstatement to say that one would find feminism in almost every frame of Laapata Ladies. Every woman in the movie represents feminism, yet all of them have their own ways to deal with it. Initially shy, Deepak’s sister-in-law explores her artistic side by the end of the movie, while Deepak’s mother, who has forgotten about her own whims and fancies, learns about giving equal importance to her own likes. In the movie, along with finding themselves, women also find companionship, sisterhood, and their own worth. In the movie, not only the ladies were lost (Laapataa), but far more things in the mindsets of people were lost.

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