Interview | Kiran Rao on ‘Laapataa Ladies’ her comeback movie as a director

The silver screen is set to light up with laughter and critical introspection as Kiran Rao’s much-anticipated film “Laapataa Ladies” finds its way to theaters on March 1. The movie, which follows the unintentional adventure of two newlywed brides who become separated from their families during a train journey to their husbands’ homes, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2023, marking Rao’s emphatic directorial return after her critically acclaimed 2010 feature, “Dhobi Ghat.”

In the ensuing days of their inadvertent disappearance, the brides embark on respective paths of self-discovery—one encountering a world beyond her previously confined existence, while the other confronts and upends the patriarchal dynamics that envelope her. “Laapataa Ladies” marries compulsive comedy with heartrending societal issues, artfully extracting humor from the most desperate situations.

Derived from Biplab Goswami’s award-winning screenplay “Two Brides,” the story was presented to Rao by her former husband, the actor-producer Aamir Khan. While the original screenplay harbored a darker demeanor, Rao, alongside her writing partners Sneha Desai and Divyanidhi Sharma, successfully spun it with threads of humor and optimism. Rao, a self-confessed comedy aficionado with a penchant for classics like “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro” and the “Monty Python” series, went so far as to fabricate the fictional state of Nirmal Pradesh for “Laapataa Ladies,” an environment where her narrative vision could manifest unimpeded. The principal roles are depicted by Nitanshi Goel, Pratibha Ranta, Ravi Kishan, and Chhaya Kadam.

Rao spoke during an interview about her extended hiatus from filmmaking, attributing her absence in part to the responsibilities of motherhood after striving hard to have a child. Her dedication to son Azad did not, however, prevent her involvement in several projects under Aamir Khan Productions and her contributions to the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. Despite her extensive engagement, Rao’s return to direction is seen as a refreshing re-entry into a space where she can truly exhibit her individual creative flair.

The director explained her connection and confidence in authentically portraying village life, drawing from her hands-on experiences while working with the Paani Foundation. Founded in 2016, the organization led her to interact closely with the rural populace of Maharashtra and thus solidify her approach for the movie’s setting. The film, shot amidst the rustic beauty of rural Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, delivers scenes steeped in authenticity.

In touching upon narrative credibility, Rao recalled the challenges of setting a story in a time where technological advancements make it nearly impossible for individuals to go missing, as physical “disappearance” is increasingly an anachronism in the digital age. The film addresses this by harkening back to an era where mobile phones, still a novelty, could be prestigious enough to be part of a dowry.

Emphasizing the significant role that comedy plays in cinema, Rao explained its potential to subtly shift perspectives and engage viewers in dialogue about serious issues under the disarmingly approachable guise of humor. This approach resonates throughout “Laapataa Ladies,” offering a sweet satire that addresses familiar problems with a fresh lens.

The collaboration with composer Ram Sampath is another highlight, as Rao fondly recounted their longstanding friendship and Sampath’s exceptional musical versatility, which has brought the film’s narrative to life.

As she recounted the shifting landscape of film distribution and the impact of streaming platforms, Rao recognized the ongoing struggles faced by smaller productions in finding their audience. However, film festivals and the necessity to generate higher quality work stand out as favorable outcomes amidst these changes.

Rao took a moment to acknowledge her deep-rooted ties with Aamir Khan Productions, a place where her journey in the industry began and continues to flourish even as she cultivates her own production house, Kindling Pictures.

“Laapataa Ladies” presents an enchanting blend of humor, realism, and poignant social commentary, offering audiences a comedic treasure that delves beyond simple laughter to inspire reflection on the society we navigate daily. As Kiran Rao gleams in the current of her enterprise, movie-goers await with bated breath for the release of this much-anticipated cinematic work.

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