Video Credit: Video by Virendra Saklani and Edited by Irish Eden R. Belleza

When you take a 14-year sabbatical from directorship, like how Kiran Rao did, you aren’t wholly wrong in wondering whether she still has that Midas touch to make a stirring film. But such conventional fears feel completely unfounded when you watch a delightful, perfectly cast comedy like ‘Laapataa Ladies’.

Set in 2001 rural India, ‘Laapataa Ladies’ – which loosely means Lost Ladies – is that beautifully benign treacle of a cinematic concoction. It’s free of being cloyingly cringe. It’s one of those feel-good movies that make you want to believe that good things happen to good people. There are no big, bankable stars driving this narrative forward, but that’s what makes it novel and superbly engaging.

Made up of mostly talented, but obscure names in Hindi cinema, ‘Laapataa Ladies’ is a major win in an industry like Bollywood that’s obsequious and reverential towards stars with box-office clout.

The real star in this movie is the meat in this satire. Nitanshi Goel and Pratibha Ranta play new brides Phool and Pushpa Rani who get married on the same day and find themselves in identical red bridal wear with their husbands on a train heading for their new homes.

Laapataa Ladies
Pratibha Ranta in 'Laapataa Ladies'

By a twist of strange fate, Deepak, fondly called Deepu, picks up the wrong bride from the train, prompting an avalanche of funny, dramatic, and suspenseful situations. Influencer and child artiste Nitanshi Goel, who has over 10 million followers on Instagram alone, plays Phool in the most unaffected and innocent manner. Her cherubic face and her unending optimism — even when she’s all alone at a railway station stuck with a surly, but good-hearted Manju (an on-point Chhaya Kadam) who runs a food stall there — is deeply disarming. The bonhomie that develops among these motley group of women and men, who operate in the shadows of the railways, is a treat to watch.

Director Rao peddles complex themes like feminism, sisterhood, gender disparity, and vulnerable masculinity in a palatable manner. A telling scene in which the happily single and fiercely independent Manju gives a crash course on modern-day feminism and why women should always be financially independent plays out beautifully. It never gets didactic or on-the-nose and there lies the charm of ‘Laapataa Ladies’. Rao seems to have adopted the KISS technique (Keep It Simple, Stupid), often taught in journalism schools while writing a story’s lede, to its last letter. But she never over-simplifies any of the grave issues like sisterhood and patriarchy.

Seasoned actor Ravi Kishen, who plays the smarmy and crafty police officer, is in splendid form. The scenes in which a visibly-agitated Deepu, played with such sensitivity by Sparsh Shrivastav, files a missing bride report is all shades of hilarious. The jokes are delivered with poker-faced perfection. Kishen wears the skin of a small-town police officer with such ease.

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Sparsh Shrivastav plays Deepak, aka Deepu, in 'Laapataa Ladies', out in UAE cinemas on March 1

And that’s not to say, all actors don’t carry their weight in this film. Pratibha Ranta as the feisty bride Pushpa Rani, who has a hidden agenda up her sleeve, is endearing. Even when she’s behaving questionably, we can’t help root for Pushpa Rani.

Rao, who grew up in cities, seems to treat rural India and its simple inhabitants with their set of prejudices with utmost sensitivity. She’s never patronising and that shows.

In the run-up to ‘Women’s Day’, ‘Laapataa Ladies’ is a robust nod to women with a silent but strong spine. It’s like your perfect palette cleanser of a film if you are facing unusual fatigue from dark, violent, and bloody films. This coming-of-age film, that doesn’t take itself too seriously, is the perfect antidote to all toxic and dark material that’s now dominating our entertainment landscape. Just like the spirited women and men in ‘Laapataa Ladies’, this film is one life-affirming joy ride.

Gulf News rating:
Film: Laapataa Ladies
Director: Kiran Rao
Cast: Sparsh Srivastav, Nitanshi Goel, Pratibha Ranta, Chhaya Kadam, Ravi Kishan, Satendra Soni, Hemant Soni, Pranjal Pateriya
Writers: Sneha Desai, Biplab Goswami, Divyanidhi Sharma
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5