Shelly Chopra Dhar’s "Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga" (What I Felt when I Saw that Girl) is much like a package ordered from Amazon. The box is huge, but most of the volume is because of the wrapping material, which can sometimes leave you a bit disappointed with the size of the actual product.
Dhar and co-writer Gazal Dhaliwal couch the main story, of a girl struggling to find acceptance and love in a small town, with so much fluff and unnecessary plot points that they dilute what is otherwise a radical subject for mainstream Bollywood.
Set in Moga, Punjab, we meet a boisterous Punjabi family headed by patriarch Balbir (Anil Kapoor), who owns a garment manufacturing business and is the “Mukesh Ambani of Moga”. He lives with his two children, Sweety and Babloo, his mother and a retinue of staff.
Sweety (Sonam Kapoor Ahuja) is a timid girl with a big secret, which is also the film’s big twist. Her father is keen to get her married, but a misunderstanding leads him to believe that she’s in love with playwright Sahil (Rajkummar Rao). Balbir believes Sahil loves his daughter, and Sahil believes Sweety loves him, but the truth is otherwise.
Without giving too much of the plot away, the film chugs along on the basis of the humour that all these misunderstandings create, with a few doses of emotion thrown in. There was a great opportunity here to talk about how Indian families value convention and conformity over everything else, but Dhar and Dhaliwal skim the surface of this topic. Balbir’s desire to be a chef is stifled because his mother doesn’t believe men should be in the kitchen.
Why a 50-year-old man is still following his mother’s orders is bewildering. Apart from a heartfelt speech in the end about how parents should let their children live their lives, the film skims over this theme as well.
What works for Dhar’s film are the honest performances, especially by the reliable Kapoor and Rao, who inject the film with energy. That energy is solely lacking in Kapoor Ahuja, who puts in a rather insipid performance as a young woman trapped in her identity and desperate for a way out. Not that the script affords her much, but even with what she has, she squanders the chance to depict the real struggle of women in small-town India and the prejudices they must deal with daily. She is the film’s weakest link, and the reason why this story falls short.
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