Screen Time: Bold Themes on the Big Screen
This month, taking a break from streaming, we write about two stylistically different movies that were screened at the Toronto International Film Festival: Karan Boolani’s Thank You for Coming and Kiran Rao’s Laapataa Ladies. Set in divergent worlds, the films struck a chord with audiences for their focus on a woman’s right to put self-love and ambition above societal expectations and rules. Khabar spoke to both filmmakers at the festival.
[Top] Laapataa Ladies
The Indian line-up at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) had to be the most eclectic one in recent years. Acclaimed filmmaker Anand Patwardhan presented the documentary The World Is Family, a tender portrait of his aging parents who were also part of the freedom movement in India, while Karan Johar and Guneet Monga brought a very un-dharma like film, KILL, a gory blood fest directed by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat. It bagged the first runner-up award in the People’s Choice category, while Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s Dear Jassi, about the true-life story of Indo-Canadian Jassi Sidhu who was murdered on the orders of her mother and uncle for falling in love with a person they did not approve of, won the prestigious Platform Prize (awarded for strong directorial vision). Jayant Digambar Somalkar, who directed the acclaimed series Guilty Minds, won the Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema (NETPAC) Award for his debut feature, Sthal, about a young woman struggling against a patriarchal system that wants her to trade her dreams for an arranged marriage. Two popular films about sisterhood and self-expression were Karan Boolani’s hilarious tale of a 30-something woman’s quest, and Kiran Rao’s sweet tale of two brides getting swapped on a train.
[Right] Laapataa Ladies
Karan Boolani (director, Selection Day; co-director, 24: India) admits that he knows women a bit better after making Thank You for Coming. The laugh-a-minute comedy, written by Radhika Anand and popular standup comic Prashasti Singh, is produced by telly soap queen Ekta Kapoor and Rhea Kapoor, who’s also Boolani’s wife. The two got together in 2018 to produce the smash hit Veerey Di Wedding, another film about female friendships that spoke about female pleasure and societal pressures on women among other things. “I am fortunate to be surrounded by strong, creative, self-aware women in my life. I see my wife and her group of friends—they are so tight and close... the minute something bad happens, they’re able to share it. Women are bolder, they are more open to having tough conversations. With my boys, we share things, but it’s hard,” he says. The film explores a multitude of scenarios that women and young girls face in their everyday lives—Kanika’s mother is a single parent who’s put herself out there and is judged by her own mother (Dolly Ahluwalia) who is a traditionalist. Kanika’s friend, Tina, is single mom whose daughter Rabeya gets entangled in a sex-video fiasco and is made to apologize for it.
Producer Ektaa Kapoor empathizes with young women who are constantly judged for their decisions and hopes she can pave the way for the current generation as the previous generation did for hers. She cites actress Neena Gupta’s decision to be a single parent as an inspiration for her to do the same. “You know when we were discussing making Veerey, Rhea and I were told that four women can’t open a film at the box office. We decided that we needed to break that myth,” she says. Daughter of superstar Jeetendra, Kapoor single-handedly changed the face of Indian television with the humongous success of her company Balaji Telefilms, which produced daily soaps that gave birth to some of the most iconic characters on television, like her “sati savitri” (pious) heroine Tulsi (Kyunki Saas bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi) and “kaleshi” (troublemaker) vamp Komolika (Kasauti Zindagi Kay).
Thank You for Coming
Kapoor has always kept her critics guessing by also producing thought-provoking films like Udta Punjab and Lootera. She’s also the brains behind ALT Balaji, the OTT platform where some of the more risqué content from Balaji is featured. “I refuse to be boxed,” she says. When asked if audiences are ready to have an open conversation about intimate issues around sex, she says that her job is to get audiences ready for such content.
Like Boolani, Kiran Rao too wanted to drive home her point about smashing the patriarchy but with a dollop of humor. In Laapataa Ladies (billed as Lost Ladies at the festival), two young brides, Phool (Nitanshi Goel) and Jaya (Pratibha Ranta), get mistakenly swap-ped while traveling by train with their respective husbands to their sasural (husband’s home)—all thanks to the tent-like ghoonghat that they wear to cover their faces, making it impossible to identify who’s who. While Jaya finds temporary refuge with Phool’s husband Deepak’s (Sparsh Shrivastava) joint family, Phool is stranded at a railway station and taken under the wing of a kind and pragmatic tea stall owner, Manju Mai (Chhaya Kadam).
How the two newlyweds find their way home and come into their own as women forms the crux of the tale. A bevy of first-time actors bring innocence and freshness to the film. Veteran actor Ravi Kishan, playing a corrupt cop with a heart of gold, gives one of his most memorable performances.
Written by Biplab Goswami, the story (then called Two Brides) had won a prize at a screenwriting competition. Aamir Khan, one of the judges, brought it to Rao's notice. Having felt a bit lost after Dhobi Ghat, which she'd made almost 12 years ago, Rao was drawn to the story.
Thank You for Coming
“Being lost leads you to unexpected places where you discover new things about yourself—and new ideas. Yes, it’s been a long gap between my two films but then, you know, life happens. I was raising a child, and I was busy with other projects,” she says.
Women getting lost in India, especially women from households who aren’t worldly wise and have stepped out of their homes for the first time, is a recipe for disaster. But Goswami, Rao, and writer Sneha Desai turn it into a tale of hope.
“The issues are serious, of women not having agency or having to curb their ambitions, but we chose to embed these serious issues in a tone that was intentionally comic and dramatic. We wanted it to have the feel of a caper, a journey full of adventure. We wanted to reinforce these ideas of love, friendship, and sisterhood—and the power that they hold in our lives,” says Rao.
Baisakhi Roy is a culture writer and journalist based in Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, Chatelaine, Broadview, and CBC. Formerly a reporter with The Indian Express in India, Roy is an avid Bollywood fan and cohosts the Hindi language podcast KhabardaarPodcast.com. Email: email@example.com
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