Tejas Nair | February 01, 2019
Rating – 3/10
Everyone who’s watched the trailer for Shelly Chopra Dhar’s directorial debut, titled Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (ENG: Felt Like This When I Saw a Girl…) for namesake and for punning purposes, can predict what it is all about without any additional information. And that in itself should be a red flag for anyone who’s interested in exploring the whole recipe, a bland little story masqueraded as a pithy taboo-breaker.
In the comedy drama, Anil Kapoor’s goofy character is busy casual-fighting with his mother in the kitchen, trying to live his dream of becoming a chef, an activity that she is against of him doing both privately and publicly. This, in turn, has given him less or no time to focus on the upbringing of his daughter Sweety (Sonam Kapoor), who grows into a beautiful (and independent?) woman with her own set of principles and likes. Trouble ensues when her brother (Abhishek Duhan) finds out that Sweety is seeing someone outside of their own religion, sending the whole family’s domestic foundation in a tizzy. Rajkummar Rao enters as a theater playwright, along with a bunch of supporting characters, to bolster this conflict into a mesmerizing mess that climaxes so prematurely the whole thing destroys the legacy of the original song by R D Burman from the 1994 classic 1942 – A Love Story. But I will still give some brownie points to Dhar and her team for re-imagining the meaning of the song and forcibly neutralizing it.
Apart from wondering throughout the film what happened to Sweety’s dear mother, I was painfully smitten by the tepid screenplay written by Gazal Dhaliwal. It is a damp celebration of cliched plot points attached together to create an effect that would have been novel in the previous century. It highlights the amateurish construction of the film by Dhar who uses all the tricks in the book to hide the incoming twist till the intermission. And when the twist unfolds in the most uncinematic way possible, Dhar does not let her film admit its ordinary shades, and keeps on going to reach the final destination: the sermon. All attempts at standing out as a groundbreaking plot falls flat because of the ending which looks like the lead paragraph of that workplace handbook you often see these days that talks about neutrality, diversity, and inclusiveness.
I am also not fascinated by Sonam’s performance which she evidently follows-up from her Khoobsurat (2014) days albeit with a lot of gloom here, perhaps because she is characterized like an actress from the 1980s. It does not suit a film that aspires to be progressive and forward-thinking. And add to that the thoughtless and insensitive references in the dialogues (mainly those performed by Brijendra Kala), the film has enough evidence to show that it is a single-cause gimmick. Nonetheless, some of these funny dialogues are what makes Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga at least bearable, further thanks to Anil and his co-actors Seema Pahwa and Kala. There are no two words other than “not mindshattering” to describe Juhi Chawla’s comeback performance as this overacting singleton trying and failing to impress everyone around her. Rajkummar Rao looks out of place here, but he still manages to impress with enough screen space slightly more than what is given to Regina Cassandra for her blink-and-you-miss role.
The songs are the opposite of charming, their choreography made to look forced, giving me the impression that each and every crew member only focused on the main theme and not on getting their own thing right. The overall camera work and the editing are partners in crime making me nominate them together for the second place in the long list of things that go wrong in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. There are scenes where you can clearly see the actors and extras in their post-character make-up, giving me a very bad taste in the mouth. All my attempt at trying to enjoy the show failed because what I was seeing on the screen was not entirely honest and only a plastic mask of what the makers wanted to convey. All that I can call impressive in the film, however, is that they were brave enough to sample a topic still so taboo-ed in India while attracting some of the top talent in the industry right now. That none of these were utilized well is why everyone attached to the film should move on right away.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga could have been revolutionary for its basic idea definitely is, but in its current form, owing to an amateur handling by director Dhar and her co-writer Dhaliwal, it “just feels okay” to watch and get it done with.
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