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Movies Need To Be A Mix Of Logic & Magic: Laapataa Ladies Writer Sneha Desai

In an interview with SheThePeople, Sneha Desai discusses working on Laapataa Ladies, why social comedies require a sensitive gaze and her stance on the surge of heartland stories in Bollywood.    

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Ragini Daliya
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Sneha Desai

Kiran Rao, who returns to film direction 13 years after Dhobi Ghat (2011), brings an unconventional yet fascinating tale with Laapataa Ladies. Produced by Aamir Khan, Laapataa Ladies follows Jaya (Pratibha Ranta) and Phool (Nitanshi Goel), two new brides who get swapped on the very first, post-wedding journey from their maika to the sasural. All because of the identical red ghungat that hides their face and identity, literally and metaphorically. 

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The film is built on an original story by Biplab Goswami, with screenplay and dialogue by Sneha Desai and additional dialogue by Divyanidhi Sharma. In an interview with SheThePeople, Desai opened up about working on the film, why social comedies require a sensitive gaze and her stance on the surge of heartland stories in Bollywood.  

Excerpts from the interview 

Laapataa Ladies is based on a short story by Biplab Goswami. How do you strike a balance when penning a screenplay from an original source? 

The central idea was from Biplab Goswami, who submitted it for the Cinestaan India’s Storytellers Competition. Aamir Khan, being on the jury, selected the story and offered it to me to develop the screenplay and dialogues. The basic idea was that I had to remain true to the texture that Biplab had developed. Yes, we did have the liberty to develop the characters the way we wanted. What we did and what we also strived for was to add a pinch of comedy, a lot of entertainment, and a lot of chutzpah to the whole setting so that the people enjoy it in the cinemas. We wanted this to be a cinematic experience. And so we stayed true to the grain of what Biplab had written, but taking it two notches further was the challenge. 

Every female character in Laapataa Ladies, regardless of their significance, has defied social stereotypes. What was the goal behind this creative choice?

No, we did not really set out to design the characters like that. We wanted the story and the characters to flow very, very organically. We definitely did try to provide a specific graph for not just female characters, but all characters. And at the end of the journey, we wanted them to be better people than what they already were. So, every character was designed in a way that they have their own journey organically. And yes, we did want the female characters, especially to have some kind of conviction, to realise their rights and do it in a way which was not very on the nose or preachy. 

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Do you think writing social comedy requires a certain kind of sensitivity, a female gaze? Would you say Bollywood is ready to incorporate the female gaze in our storylines?

Yes, absolutely. We are witnessing that shift with more and more women coming into the workforce, taking up creative jobs and having an equal say at the decision table. I think the female gaze is getting powerful, we are being heard and acknowledged. 

I feel movies have to be a wonderful combination of logic and magic, the story has to follow a set pattern. But at the same time, it should not be so mechanical or technical, that everything feels correct, but you don't feel a thing. It's eventually all about emotion.

Storytelling is the perfect medium to advocate change. What is your relationship with storytelling? What prompted you to take up writing?

Oh, well writing happened to me quite by chance. I feel storytelling has been ingrained in the Indian ethos right from our childhood. We are brought up on a diet of wonderful stories by our grandparents, and parents, and our literature supports wonderful storytelling. So, I think as Indians, we take up messages, absorb social comments and change when it is told through an entertaining medium. There is a greater chance of acceptance when a social commentary is made through stories rather than compelled through orders.

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What is that one message that you want to give to young female writers who are planning career paths in screenwriting?

I want to tell them that it's a big huge world out there, and tremendous opportunities exist. There's a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of money to be made. But make sure that you do not compromise on the content that you want to serve. Do not let the market dictate, after a point. Follow your heart, follow your pen and try to give something original, something empathetic, something that benefits the society in some way or the other. Any story that is told beautifully will be consumed. So just don't fear and don't try and bracket yourself or box yourself in any kind of genre. Let the pen and ink flow freely. The world is ready for your stories.

Sneha Desai Kiran Rao Aamir Khan And Kiran Rao Laapataa Ladies
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