‘Laapataa Ladies’ review: A must-watch breezy feminist comedy
(Credits: Yash Raj Films)

Film Reviews

‘Laapataa Ladies’ review: A must-watch breezy feminist comedy


Directed by Kiran Rao, Laapataa Ladies (translated: Lost Ladies) manages to walk the line between being an easily digestible wholesome cinema and being a potent reminder of how regressive the world truly is for women. In a world that often seems to take three steps backwards for every one taken forward, where regressive policies and attitudes persist, films like this emerge as timely parables—painted with broad brushstrokes but simultaneously hitting all the right notes. 

Laapataa Ladies was released in theatres on March 1st, 2024, before finally arriving on Netflix in late April. This comedy-drama is a well-made entertainer built on the principles of Feminism 101. It dives into the issues women face at the grassroots level in the hinterlands of India, but keeps things generic enough for some of the issues addressed to have their ripples felt in the more urban spaces as well.

Rao, known for her directorial debut Dhobi Ghat, takes a departure from the experimental and introspective nature of her previous work to craft a heartwarming tale in Laapataa Ladies. Unlike Dhobi Ghat, which explored the intricacies of life in Mumbai through the intersecting stories of its characters, Laapataa Ladies zooms into the journey of two young brides who inadvertently swap places during a jampacked train ride.

Set in 2001 in the fictional Nirmal Pradesh, the film follows Deepak (played by Sparsh Shrivastav), a farmer, as he travels back to his village with his new bride, Phool (portrayed by Nitanshi Goel). The story takes an unexpected turn when Deepak, in a rush to get off the train, mistakenly leaves with another bride in a similar veil, Jaya (played by Pratibha Ranta), leaving Phool behind.

As Deepak frantically begins searching for Phool, she finds shelter with railway station tea-seller Chhotu (portrayed by a winning Satendra Soni) and the fearsome feminist grandma Manju Maai (played by Chhaya Kadam). With plenty of red herrings and found families galore, this film plays out breezily enough. However, one of the film’s strengths lies in its quieter moments, which speak volumes about the many ludicrous and downright cruel societal norms and expectations imposed on women. 

The more obvious scenes are Deepak’s discomfort during a dowry conversation on the train and his lack of amusement at Inspector Shyam Manohar’s (Ravi Kishan) outdated joke about not being able to lose his wife despite trying. Here, Rao very obviously underlines what you are supposed to find funny and what you are supposed to rebuke. 

A little later in the film, Deepak goes searching for Phool with the only photo he has of her: their wedding photo, where Phool has a veil (ghoonghat) drawn to her chest. One of the shop owners lectures Deepak on how the veil hides Phool’s face and, therefore, shrouds her identity entirely. In the very next shot, we see his wife clad in a burkha, her face hidden. If Rao had dwelled too much on the equivalence of a ghoonghat and burkha or even tried to dip her toes further into the ideas of choice feminism, Laapataa Ladies would have morphed into a different, more evolved story. But sometimes, keeping it simple and clearly spelt out is necessary, especially when reading comprehension and media literacy have become so sparse.

Laapataa Ladies does what it does tremendously well. It is infused with a lot of warmth, but there is that female rage encoded in the very being of the film that is quiet and has developed a sense of humour of its own because how else will we cope? Feminine rage is often louder when the creator of the story puts a masculine lens on it.

Nitanshi Goel’s portrayal of Phool captures the vulnerability and resilience of a young woman navigating unfamiliar territory while learning to question her spoonfed reality. Sparsh Shrivastav brings depth to the character of Deepak, torn between unquestioned tradition and the truth laid threadbare. Pratibha Ranta shines as Jaya, a character that ticks people off for being too smart for her own good in a society that has high-achieving girls still questioning their success. Just take a look at Prachi Nigam, the topper from Uttar Pradesh.

Laapataa Ladies is more than just a tale of mistaken identities. The very name of the film is a riff on the many ways women are taught to erase their own identities in service of others. In one of the many unassuming scenes of the film, Geeta Agrawal Sharma’s Yashoda (Deepak’s mother) is pleasantly surprised when Jaya compliments her cooking. It is a simple thing, yes. But how often do we thank the women who cook for us daily, often out of love but generally out of obligation?

In between all the fun and songs, Laapataa Ladies unwittingly ends up answering the age-old question: choli ke peechhe kya hai, chunri ke nichey (what’s beyond the veil)? For women? A world of freedom and joyous independence.

You can and must watch Laapataa Ladies on Netflix and catch the trailer here: