LICH rating: (3.5 / 5)
I was wondering just when he’d begin his trombeniks. It could have happened earlier, just as it had been happening all these years after 1994. But after a lull he was at it again. Last week producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra, he the Wayne (or is it Vain, I can’t remember) Dyer-Dale Carnegie-Robin Sharma-Deepak Chopra-music prodigy all-in-one platinum pack to the hapless, down and out composer Rahul Dev Burman (aka Pancham), came out with a revealing claim. That he lied to Pancham during the making of that liltingly sweet number, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To. The flustered, confused composer wanted to use violins and chorals for this number (I’m surprised why not disco beats and synths with vocoder), to which the wily musical genius told him to stick to minimal orchestration, and that he’d add sounds to the song during its filming—the sound of cycle bells, passersby, or possibly even the rustling of the tattered lungi-cum-curtain in Pancham’s balcony.
Circa 2019, producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra seems to have lost, along with Pancham, his musical ingenuity. For in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga (How I felt when I saw that girl) the songs are anything but minimalistic (Rochak Kohli even reprising the chartbuster from Rahul Dev’s repertoire)—the orchestra’s loud and boisterous. (But then there’s a wedding here, so why not?) And the background score by Sanjay Wandrekar and Atul Raninga is as in your face as Amar Mohile. A comic scene? Cue that trembling, dipping trumpet (from the sound bank of the for-now-dropped-from-Chopra-camp, Rajkumar Hirani). An emotional scene? Bring in the violin and loud flute. A chase scene? Play the vaudeville piece. So much for minimalism and audience EQs.
The rest of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga is subtle. Sometimes too subtle for its own good. Based on an early P.G. Wodehouse work—A Damsel in Distress—the movie works best when it’s taking social and comedy cues from the genius’s story. So, dinner settings, family arguments, staff of the house shenanigans, and parallel romances, all come out in full, sunshine bloom, leaving a smile on your lips and a spring in your heart. (Or is it the other way around?) As with all Wodehouse plots, the action takes place in the countryside, but first Sweety Chaudhary (Sonam Kapoor Ahuja) must bump into son-of-a-rich-movie-producer (played with aplomb by the ever likeable Kanwaljeet Singh) but-wanting-to strike- out-on-his-own playwright, Sahil Mirza (Rajkummar Rao). Sahil’s writing has the Sadim Touch (the opposite of Midas Touch if you must know), and everything he puts down on paper flops with accurate precision.
One mishap leads to another and Sahil finds himself in Moga, Punjab, wanting to meet Sweety again and follow up on important matters to fuel up his creativity but finds himself embroiled in real-life musings and inspirations. In tow is the caterer of his troupe, Chatroji (Juhi Chawla) who comes up with mind-shattering menu items but is not-so-secretly an actress at heart. In parallel, you also meet Sweety’s father, the Ambani of Moga, Balbir Chaudhary (Anil Kapoor), her granny, Gifty (Madhumalti Kapoor), brother Babloo (Abhishek Duhan) and her house attendants—Chaubey (Brijendra Kala) and Billauri (Seema Pahwa), among others. Plus, there’s the stunning and charming Kuhu (Regina Cassandra) who circles around the plot and the family and has life-altering ramifications for all concerned.
All of this leads to a superbly shot, intoxicated interval-calling scene that is very satisfactory. It is beyond this point that director Shelly Chopra Dhar (she co-wrote the story with Gazal Dhaliwal) looks the other way when she ought to have punched your guts out. Dhar chooses to keep on the path treading lightly, which means there’s no passion or burning desire between the couple in focus. They seem as platonic as a spoon and fork laid out on a dinner table with no sparks flying between them, which then makes it hard for you to swallow the rest of the standing-up-against-the-society bit. There’s a time to be subtle and there is not. This was a time to be not. And this sticky cinematic situation isn’t helped a bit by Sonam’s act, who strives hard to get into the hapless suitor-chased woman, but she can only muster up that much. She’s likeable, endearing, and yet detached—she doesn’t invest her Sweety with an inner yearning or thoughtfulness. She doesn’t show you what makes Sweety tick or fall in love, nor do you get a sense of the persona trap and suffocation that Sweety must be going through all through her life. The writing’s all too pat here and the actress follows suit, not adding an extra dimension to her act that’ve made her role simmer and singe.
Anil Kapoor, on the other hand, shows her—and everyone else—who’s her—and their—daddy. He’s simply superb, swinging from father’s affection to angst; he makes you smile, he breaks your heart. (And yes, for all those male underwear burning armchair activists, small town protagonists require help from the men to solve their problems; that’s the way it is unfortunately. In that sense, Kapoor’s Balbir is the forward-looking Michelin of Moga.) In a sparkling scene between Rajkummar Rao and Anil Kapoor through a kitchen window, watch Kapoor when the former’s character praises the aroma that’s wafting because of the latter’s ladling—his expressions crinkle into joyous light, only to be covered by clouds the next moment.
Rajkummar Rao is so good, you don’t get a sense of his acting triggers; he simply is fabulously natural, not trying to steal the scene or dominate the proceedings. He’s just superbly effective, lighting up his corner of the screen with knowing and consummate mastery. He makes Sahil so, oh-so likeable. Juhi Chawla cracks her scenes with slick timing, her act absolutely loveable; and her scenes with Anil Kapoor are a luminescent highlight.
Rounding up the superb cast are Regina Cassandra, assured and sparkling in her debut; Brijendra Kala having a ball, his self-assumed know-all act so much fun—watch him adjust his hair as he gets a hug from Rao inside the Chaudhary house during a party—and everyday normal. As is Seema Pahwa. As Sweety’s brother, Abhishek Duhan nails it nice and proper, spewing all the prejudiced venom that’s inculcated right during his character’s schooling days. You don’t like him one bit, and that’s what he’s aiming for. And Madhumalti Kapoor as the family matriarch, wearing blouses that are a storage space for items during any calamity, is the sauce of all good things in the proceedings.
And what of Mr. Chopra the mad filmmaker? Like Brijendra Kala’s Chaubeyji, I’m entering my name in the diary of bets. Sometime soon, a movie titled Kuch Na Kaho. And another story—that he’s circulated over the years—of how Pancham gave a fast-paced, nonsensical number that he shot down and inspired the composer to give that goose-bumpy, tear-gland activating number, promising him that he’d include a remixed number later. As good old Wordsworth once said, undoubtedly influenced by a chilled pint from the countryside’s best, mulling over the behavior of someone who must’ve taken credit for inspiring his Lines Composed A Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, “Wisdom is oft-times nearer when we stoop, Than when we soar.”
LICH ratings chart
(1 / 5): Don’t bother
(2 / 5): Not too great
(3 / 5): Worth a watch
(4 / 5): Very good
(5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s subtle hints of adult themes.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga
Director Shelly Chopra Dhar Running Time 2h Writers Shelly Chopra Dhar, Gazal Dhaliwal
Stars Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Anil Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Abhishek Duhan, Regina Cassandra
Genres Comedy, Drama, Romance