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Comedy of Errors: ’Laapataa Ladies’ Struggles With Caste Dynamics in Its Depiction of Village Life in India

Comedy of Errors: ’Laapataa Ladies’ Struggles With Caste Dynamics in Its Depiction of Village Life in India

  • I really wanted to like this movie, especially at a time when Bollywood is increasingly dominated by hypermasculine films like "Animal." Sadly, it didn't make the cut.

“Laapataa Ladies” (Lost Ladies) is set in the fictional Indian state of Nirmal Pradesh, where two brides are accidentally swapped during a train ride. Both women are dressed in identical, uniform-like red saris with their faces hidden by long red veils. Deepak (Sparsh Srivastava) mistakenly takes home Pradeep’s wife Pushpa (Pratibha Ranta), while his wife, Phool (Nitanshi Goel), is left stranded at a railway station. In “Laapataa Ladies,” both brides are lost both in the personal and literal sense.

The ghoonghat in the movie symbolizes the veil that obscures women’s real identities, and the film explores the journey of women in discovering their true selves. While Phool takes shelter with tea seller Manju Mai (Chhaya Kadam), Pushpa adjusts to Deepak’s family. However, the way Deepak’s family accepts Pushpa (Jaya) without any inquiry about her caste feels idealized and superficial, presenting an unrealistic view of an Indian village.

Considering the arranged marriage context, the love between Deepak and Phool lacks a compelling backstory and depth, as they had no interaction before their marriage. Despite director Kiran Rao’s portrayal of Deepak as a well-mannered man who rejects dowry, his character feels flat and underdeveloped. Similarly, his family members are thinly written and appear superficial. In contrast, Phool undergoes significant character development and follows a clear arc, emerging as the sole character with notable growth in the story.

One heartwarming scene features Manju Mai handing money to Phool, praising her for the delicious kalaakand (sweet) she prepared for the shop. Phool’s eyes light up with newfound self-worth, making it a transformative moment that resonates emotionally with the audience.

In a society where being single is often equated with helplessness and unhappiness, the character of Manju Mai (played by Chhaya Kadam) stands out as an independent, assertive woman who runs a tea stall at Pateela station. After leaving an abusive family, she has lived alone for years, embodying strength and resilience. Her home features a portrait of Dr. Ambedkar, indicating that she draws inspiration from his teachings. 

In one scene, Jaya elucidates the concept of yellow sticky traps in farming, attributing her knowledge to her father’s ownership of farmland and her interest in agriculture. She emphasizes that farming in India hinges on hard work and faith. However, this dialogue overlooks the intricate caste dynamics entrenched within Indian agriculture. Caste often dictates land ownership and determines one’s vulnerability in case of crop failure. For instance, certain castes (Dalits) are typically relegated to labor roles on farms, where they toil on leased lands predominantly owned by Upper Caste landlords. Therefore, Jaya’s assertion that farming relies solely on hard work and faith overlooks the systemic injustices and inequalities perpetuated by caste-based disparities in Indian agriculture.

“Laapataa Ladies” presents a seemingly caste-blind portrayal of complex village life, reminiscent of many other Bollywood films set in rural settings.

Throughout the movie, attempts are made to circumvent discussions of caste by using supposedly caste-neutral surnames or removing the surname altogether. However, in one scene, Jaya sends money to her sister Hema Tripathi that reveals her upper-caste background. Furthermore, Jaya, a woman from a Brahmin family, swiftly alters the perspectives of nearly all of Deepak’s family members within a short span. This portrayal suggests that a Brahmin woman, mistakenly arriving at their doorstep, can impart wisdom on how to live, resulting in a dramatic transformation of beliefs and behaviors. 

Frankly, it feels completely unrealistic and perpetuates the harmful stereotype that working-class village women inherently suffer due to their lack of knowledge about living correctly. Additionally, it reinforces the notion that all their hardships will vanish if an upper-caste stranger (Jaya) subtly educates them.

Ravi Kishan’s character, a corrupt cop who suddenly becomes altruistic for Jaya, strains credulity. This narrative turn feels incredibly jarring and unconvincing. Additionally, the character Abdul’s role remains perplexing, leaving viewers questioning if the character was necessary for the plot.

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The film goes to great lengths with elaborate camera movements, such as employing a slow zoom during supposedly progressive dialogues. Many dialogues come across as superficial and out of place within the rural backdrop, showcasing inconsistency in the writing. Furthermore, the movie lacks any memorable songs. Overall, these factors leave the film feeling like it fell short of its potential.

“Laapataa Ladies” presents a seemingly caste-blind portrayal of complex village life, reminiscent of many other Bollywood films set in rural settings. It’s unclear whether the director aimed for satire or simply a lighthearted comedy, which may leave viewers confused about the film’s intent. This approach may resonate more with the urban middle-class audience, as the movie opts for a clean, sanitized, and safe depiction of village life while trying to talk about a very important subject matter. 

I really wanted to like this movie, especially at a time when Bollywood is becoming more dominated by hypermasculine films like “Animal.” Sadly, it didn’t quite meet my expectations. While it includes some beautiful scenes and discussion topics scattered throughout, it mainly serves as a light-hearted comedy to watch with family.

Lokesh Bag is a writer, movie critic, and sketch artist. He has a graduate degree in Agricultural Entomology. An Ambedkarite, Bag has been creating meaningful conversations about caste, gender, and social issues. He has been published in The Quint and he often writes on various topics in tweet-chunks on Twitter/X for his fans. He believes in working towards a better tomorrow, one word at a time.

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