I really wanted to watch this film since I saw the trailer. Not because of the star-cast (which is no doubt impressive) but because I really wanted to see how the subject of homosexuality will be handled in this new era of Hindi Cinema. I sincerely believe we have moved far ahead of the mockery that was shown in Dostana. Unfortunately, when it comes to Ek Ladki Ko Dekha..., the idea of creating a new-age romance that transcends boundaries was possibly limited to the creator's vision. It never gets translated into the actual film. So Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a massive opportunity gone lost. It will only be a spot even when it had the opportunity to paint the entire canvas, for generations to admire.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha...is based on a P.G. Wodehouse book titled 'A Damsel in Distress'. Having read a bit of his work in the past and going by the reviews on Goodreads, it would be safe to say that the book would be a better use of your time. Honestly, I don't like to pan films right upfront in my reviews and it is not that Ek Ladki Ko Dekha...is a horrible film. It is not, but still, it is very hard to find high-points in a film where Rajkumar Rao is looking lost.
The film stars Sonam Kapoor as Sweety, a timid, small-town girl from Moga (Punjab), daughter of Balbir Chaudhary, played by Anil Kapoor. The story starts from the wedding of a relative where Sweety comes across as a loner and pissed off with all the typical shadi conversations. There is a song and dance routine (Gud Nal Ishq Mittha) and then the film cuts to 'one year later'. Sweety is running from someone and comes to hide in a theatre where a play is being rehearsed, written by Sahil Mirza (Rajkumar Rao). They meet and sparks fly, or so Sahil thinks. He follows her to Moga, hoping to make something happen and that's when confusion hits. Things take a weird turn and we all know what that is, but for the benefit of the few who don't, I will not spoil the film.
The highlight of the film for me was Anil Kapoor as Balbir lovingly called the Mukesh Ambani of Moga and Juhi Chawla as Chatro, who is full of confidence about her acting prowess, even though she is a caterer. Most of the memorable/humorous moments have at least one or both featuring in them. Balbir's love for cooking is touted by family as his feminine side but he embraces it, even at the cost of great fear of being shouted upon by his mom. Chatro's use of the phrase Mind-Shattering is adorable every single time. Another noteworthy thing is the title song, which is beautifully re-created and sounds like it could never fit any other film so well.
The biggest drawback of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is the writing. Yes, the plot is bold and has potential but that gets wasted with simplistic and superficial writing of the film. It never feels like you understand Sweety or her partner at all. Just by saying things like "main alag hoon" and "mujhe hamesha akele hi rehna hoga" you can't expect to reach the hearts of the audiences. For the film to work, one should feel compelled to feel for Sweety, and that never happens. What makes this worse is a complete and utter lack of romance in the film. For a romantic film, there are no exchanges of emotions between the main leads, leave alone the physicality of it all. Add to this, Sonam Kapoor as Sweety is as superficial as the writing. She says that she is suffocated but her portrayal does not showcase that. She is unimpressive throughout and completely falters at the big moments, taking away all hope of turning the film around. I feel that the younger girl, who played the young Sweety did a terrific job of communicating her suffocation and angst, at herself and god.
There is only so much Rajkumar Rao can do, and frankly, he does not even get much to work with. Sahil's character also appeared flat in certain places and it is only Rajkumar's brilliance that he was able to extract some noteworthy moments. A special mention for Abhishek Dhuan, who plays Sweety's brother Babloo. He delivers what you call a 'Kadak' performance. All the character actors pitch in well, from Seema Pahwa as Billauri and Brijendra Kala as Chaubey. I have been a fan of Brijendra Kala right from Haasil and he continues to create magic with even the simplest of lines.
To sum it up, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a film in the right direction but it does not move the needle as much as it should have. The final product is just too safe and clean as if the makers got cold feet after choosing a bold topic and decided to self-censor moments that 'some people' could find even remotely uncomfortable. Watch it for Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla if you must. I would recommend waiting for it to be available on a streaming platform. There is nothing big-screen worthy in this one.