Review: A Lesbian Romantic Comedy, Sort of, by Way of Bollywood

Review: A Lesbian Romantic Comedy, Sort of, by Way of Bollywood

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Sahil wastes no time being disappointed. Instead, he gets his big idea: to transform a fashion show (Sweety’s dad owns a textile factory) into a musical comedy that preaches tolerance about same-sex love. The stars are none other than Sweety and her girlfriend, Kuhu (Regina Cassandra), who up to this late point in the movie has been seen only briefly in flashbacks.

So, if Sweety’s love dares to speak its name — mostly to worry about its acceptance — her love story has to whisper around the edges of this movie. “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga,” directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar, isn’t really a romantic comedy in the Bollywood sense — courting, squabbling, wedding. (Though there is a very on-brand song montage with Sweety and Kuhu hugging among ruins.) Instead, like Sahil’s musical, “Ek Ladki” has to give lessons, tackling topics like shame, community acceptance and anxieties about gayness as illness.

Indian movies, especially indie ones, have treated gay themes before. (Not always happily: Fundamentalists burned theaters that were showing Deepa Mehta’s lesbian film “Fire” in 1996.) The first mainstream Bollywood movie to have gay main characters, “Dostana” (2008), was a cheat — the two men, played by big stars, were only pretending to be gay.

In that sense, “Ek Ladki,” the first to put lesbians center stage, is an improvement. No pretending here, even if Kuhu is barely a character and romance only a tiny portion of this movie. (The film’s title may prime audiences for romance, though. It’s also the title of a dreamy hit song from “1942: A Love Story,” a movie that starred … Mr. Kapoor.)

Sahil’s big show ends with much of the audience walking out in disgust. It works, though, for one important person: Sweety’s father, who had rejected her during rehearsals, when he learned that she and Kuhu weren’t just playacting. But he comes around in time to interrupt the performance, delivering the message of love and tolerance that is this movie’s reason to be.

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