Kiran Rao’s Laapataa Ladies: The feel-good hit Bollywood needed

From TIFF to Netflix, South First traces the journey of 'Laapataa Ladies' and its cultural impact.

BySwaroop Kodur

Published May 28, 2024 | 2:37 PM Updated May 28, 2024 | 3:51 PM

Kiran Rao's Laapataa Ladies is a feel-good hit Bollywood needed

Kiran Rao’s sophomore film, Laapataa Ladies, has quite apparently revitalised Hindi cinema with its superb performance at the box office and later on streaming.

The comedy-drama, boasting several new faces among a small selection of known actors like Ravi Kishan and Chhaya Kadam, was released in theatres on 1 March 2024. This followed its international premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where it began its journey with glowing reviews.

Having grossed close to ₹24 crore against a reported budget of ₹4-5 crore, during its theatrical run, Laapataa Ladies arrived on Netflix on 26 April with a spunk in its stride.

There, on OTT, the film went on to achieve exceptional success by remaining in the Global Top 10 in the Non-English category for four weeks straight, amassing up to 2 crore and 85 lakh streaming minutes in a little over a month.

In the India category, the Hindi movie maintained a podium position each week and is in no mood to stop.

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Laapataa Ladies has ingenious storytelling’

But these statistics aside, Kiran Rao’s comeback film, as it were, has already cast an indelible cultural impact on Bollywood and beyond, proving that good and ingenious storytelling will always remain in vogue.

While the year 2023 gloated about big-ticket stompers like Pathaan, Jawan, Gadar 2, and Animal, an unostentatious film like Laapataa Ladies rekindles faith that films of all shapes, sensibilities, and sizes have space in the sprawling industry.

“The landscape of storytelling in Hindi cinema has changed so much,” notes well-known film critic Rahul Desai, responding to a question about what potentially worked in Kiran Rao and Co’s favour.

The infusion of a kind of hypermasculine energy in films became the unofficial norm on the big screen as cinema across the country charted its return to the theatres after the coronavirus pandemic.

Hindi cinema also witnessed the wholehearted acceptance of Southern big-budget mass-y titles like Pushpa: The Rise (2021), KGF: Chapter 2 (2022), and RRR (2022) in this phase, thus enunciating a shift in the trend and the mood.

“Kiran Rao’s Laapataa Ladies felt almost like a return to old-school storytelling. The film might not be extraordinary in isolation but there’s something about its simplicity and sincerity that felt like a return to old times; maybe pre-pandemic, the social dramas that one got to see in the 80s,” adds Rahul Desai.

Desai includes more recent unprecedented hits like Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s underdog tale 12th Fail (2023) and Kunal Kemmu’s buddy comedy Madgaon Express (2024) into the discussion.

Their success is validation that your fundamentals of good storytelling need to be right before anything else. This only means, the critic says, that despite them being based on conventional formulas, they resonate with audiences because “it feels nostalgic when you see these films today.”

Rahul Desai elaborates, “Before the pandemic, you got to see different kinds of movies and people had better choices for a theatrical experience. I don’t think those middle-of-the-road films worked well in theatres post-pandemic and a lot of them would end up on streaming.”

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Kiran Rao strikes the balance

Laapataa Ladies marks the comeback film of Kiran Rao

‘Laapataa Ladies’ marks the comeback film of Kiran Rao. (Supplied)

For Subha J Rao, another prominent film critic and writer, the operative word while discussing Laapataa Ladies is innocence.

“Some of the views of the film regard that its messaging was a bit too on the face but I felt it was beautiful and subtle. It felt like a throwback to a happy world,” she says.

The critic points out that the film, which is set in the Hindi heartland, ran for close to three months in Chennai.

“Hindi cinema does well in Tamil Nadu provided it is a star vehicle. But for a film like Laapataa Ladies to do well there is a huge success,” she adds.

And the Bollywood film, interestingly, breaks ground without getting too ahead of itself, but rather in neat little strokes.

The story traces how two young newlywed women are separated from their respective husbands owing to a comical confusion, leading them inadvertently onto a path of self-discovery.

Based on the story by Biplab Goswami and written for the screen by Sneha Desai, Laapataa Ladies manages to strike the right balance of combining an overt message with strong doses of humour and entertainment.

“It manages to hit that sweet spot between life and storytelling,” says Rahul Desai.

He points out, “It doesn’t get overly dark or serious when it has the chance to. Nor does it become conventional with its writing or the way it approaches characters. That feel-goodness seemed missing in Hindi storytelling for a while and that is why a film like 12th Fail too did so well.”

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Enterprising characters & taut script

Sparsh Shrivastav and Nitanshi Goel

Sparsh Shrivastav and Nitanshi Goel in a still from ‘Laapataa Ladies’. (Supplied)

Laapataa Ladies brims with enterprising characters that are handled deftly and true to life. It also gives license to be fun and slightly filmy with their one-liners and monologues.

“Hearing Manju Maai (the character played by Chhaya Kadam) is great but also a rude awakening,” Subha Rao says.

The writer-critic explains, “The truth bombs she drops are brilliant. Phool’s (played by Nitanshi Goel) endearing innocence makes you want to protect her. And Pushpa Rani (Pratibha Ranta) is many women who are forced to hide their intelligence because it affects men. I think the film spoke to a whole bunch of people, impacting different people in different ways.”

Subha Rao also identifies that this was a love story that audiences have been pining to see for a long time. “Which was the last film you watched where you truly wanted characters to get together in the end? And that scene where Deepak says ‘I love you’ to Phool, I think, is more macho than most things we have seen on screen!”

Deepak, played by Sparsh Shrivastav, lends a great arc in the film that views him with care and empathy. Shrivastav’s performance elevates the writing even further, with the film’s co-producer Aamir Khan heaping praise on the actor.

Popular film trade analyst and TV host Komal Nahta lauds Kiran Rao’s conviction in putting together an ensemble cast that’s lesser-known but skilful regardless. “The confidence she had in the script showed in her making. I feel this kind of honesty doesn’t go to waste.”

Within the context of box office business, Kiran Rao’s Laapataa Ladies also benefitted from a promising trailer.

“In the absence of stars, you need your trailer and the songs to work well. The songs became popular later but the first impression with the trailer charmed everyone; people felt it was something unique and the buzz began right there,” Komal Nahta adds.

She opines that the film (co-produced by Aamir Khan) could have done even better business had the release strategy been more economical. “Had it been released in a lesser number of screens and had the ticket prices been reduced, it would have performed far better”.

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Has its heart in the right place

Laapataa Ladies is streaming on Netflix

‘Laapataa Ladies’ is streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)

It would be tough to claim with certainty about what contributed to the overarching success of Kiran Rao’s Laapataa Ladies.

The key factor, of course, is the craft that comes through with honesty and finesse and has the support of material that is engaging, relevant, and entertaining all at once.

The positioning of the film, too, has played a significant role here. Its theatrical run might have felt a little stunted but its arrival on OTT has been nothing short of remarkable thus far, as it edges out bigwigs like Animal in the viewing hours race.

“Many missed out on catching it in cinemas because they might have felt that spending ₹250 for a film without a prominent star cast. But that run in the theatres spread the word that it’s a lovely film,” shares Komal Nahta.

The fact that many major names of Bollywood, including Alia Bhat, Varun Dhawan, and Priyanka Chopra showered genuine praise on the film also worked its wonders on OTT, he adds.

But all the technical talk aside, Laapataa Ladies works because it has a big heart and an inherently nice personality.

“Many of us watched it because you know the gaze in her films wouldn’t be problematic. Beyond that, I feel you sometimes need films that don’t put you on the edge or make you panic. And this is one of those kinds of film,” Subha Rao signs off.

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