laapataa ladies

Barby and I took a quick trip back to India last week.

We watched the new Bollywood movie, Laapataa Ladies—which translates as Lost Ladies. It is as authentic and immersive an experience of India, in just two hours, that you could wish to have.

Well, make that four hours because we watched it twice, with the second viewing under the guise of ‘blog research’. Here is the trailer, with English subtitles. It’ll give you a quick sense of the storyline.

But back to being ‘authentic and immersive’.

“Tell me more, I hear you say”—or, did I just imagine you saying that?

The senses

Over the years, with newcomers to India—or South Asia, for that matter (because I never like to leave out Pakistan)—I don’t like to tell them too much beforehand, except that they be prepared for one thing. Your senses are about to be overloaded, often all at once. It was true of this encounter with India as well.

From the sweeping vistas of rural India to the intimate insight into village life; and from the drab and dirty chaos of a police inspector’s office to the bright and beautiful colours worn by the women—the sights are there. And let’s not forget the sitting on the top of a bus, the crowding into a train compartment, or the queueing onto the back of a motorbike.

The tastebuds get a workout as well. There is chai and bread pakoda and samosa (with ‘Chutney Man’ using the chutney like ‘a drink, rather than a dip’—my kinda guy!). There is kalakand and paan (with the police inspector’s mouth so full of it that it becomes both a taste and a sight for the viewer to savour).

There are roosters crowing, buffaloes mooing (is that what buffaloes do?)—and is the ol’ grandpa lying on his charpai listening to a cricket commentary on his tiny transistor? I am pretty sure I heard ‘Harbhajan’s’ name mentioned.

The issues

This movie is a Aamir Khan-Kiran Rao collaboration. That means we can expect one thing for sure. It is going to poke and prod at issues in Indian society—not so much by soap-boxing, but by weaving them into the dialogue. Maybe once or twice it felt a bit forced, but it didn’t matter too much.

The police are here, engaging in bribery and corruption—even while ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’ is a sign above the doorway behind the police inspector’s desk. The local MLA (like an MP) is here, fronting-up to help a husband whose lost his wife, only to abuse that lostness by turning it into a party political broadcast about a lost democracy and a lost socialism. Talk of dowry, from mobile phones to motorbikes to jewellery, is here. So is marriage, ‘arranged’ as expected. There are two new ones on display, just hours after the formalities are completed. One that is already filled with love and tenderness, with the other already filled with abuse and violence. Issues of ‘honour and shame’ seem to be present at every turn in the story. As one of the lost brides expresses: ‘A respectable girl cannot return to her parents without her husband’—and so she is stuck where she is, living at a train station until things change.

At its core, this is a movie about empowering women. The ‘veil’ as metaphor, in concert with the lost-found motif, holds the movie together and provides much of the focus for the ‘poking and prodding’. While the two brides may be lost, they are each instrumental in the other one being found. One is found in a loving marriage, while the other is found following other dreams. There is an affirmation that a woman’s work can extend beyond the ‘sew, cook, sing, pray’ of traditional respectability and go on to embrace vocations involving both art and science.

The characters

Ah yes, I love a little character development…

We are drawn to the contrast in the two newly weds. The virtues in one are made all the more attractive by being juxtaposed, quite literally at the start by sitting together in the same train compartment, with the vices in the other. Pradeep and Jaya? Pradeep is a brutal, sleazy bully. The insinuation is that he burned his first wife when she did not bear him children. Jaya pleads with her mother that she not have to marry him, but without success. But Jaya is strong and smart—and resourceful. When Deepak mistakenly takes her from the train with him, she sees her opportunity to escape her marriage. Deepak and Phool? Deepak is sweet and tender, with a face full of adoring love, as he looks at his new wife—and then when he loses her, a desperation takes over. Phool is so very young—as well as shy and naive.

My favourite character is Manju Maai. She runs a tea stall on the platform of a train station. So gruff, and yet so compassionate and generous. A stream of wisdom flows from her into Phool’s naivete—while Manju herself is illiterate. She’s been damaged by men but chosen to let the experience make her stronger. She is the liberated woman in the movie, the woman who has found herself and is free. And yet, Manju won’t eat Phool’s kalakand (an Indian sweet) because she reckons there is no sweetness in her life to celebrate—but then when Phool is found by Deepak, she sneaks a little taste! ‘Being happy on your own is the toughest thing, but once you master it no one can bother you’—and yet she’s not on her own, with her little community, and she welcomes being bothered by Phool!

The communities

The movie is so ripe for a little cultural exegesis, especially by people more alien to what is going on here—starting with those swamped by the individualism which we in the ‘West’ are so accustomed. The communities in the movie, together with the way they shape peoples’ identity is so strong.

Deepak’s family live together as four generations in their home in the village and each generation is given voice and focus at points in the storyline. None is invisible or inaudible.

A community of friends gathers around Deepak. There is their unbridled joy in meeting him and his bride off the bus in the dead-of-night, bringing along a noisy wedding band to help them celebrate. Then in Deepak’s search for Phool, they are always with him in every sojourn. It reminded me of a time when I was unwell in Bangalore and my friend, Johnson, insisted on coming with me and sitting with me right through not one day, but two days, at the hospital. Totally unnecessary, but that’s what friends do.

But once again it is Manju’s community around the tea stall that appeals the most. Inclusion. Strength. Wisdom. Compassion. There is Chutney Man. There is little Chotu. There is a beggar called Abdul. It is a slice of India’s most impoverished—and then their welcome of the lost Phool is just beautiful. Both Chotu and Manju welcome her, separately, into their simplest of homes. It is the poorest giving their bestest as hosts, with Phool becoming family—referring to Manju with the term that means ‘grandma’.

The music

What is a Bollywood movie without some songs? Not much, I hear you say. And we are not to be disappointed, with Spotify carrying four songs—with the leading one apparently being Sajni. It seems I cannot embed it here from YouTube, so here is the link. The singer is Arijit Singh—arguably, Bollywood’s finest—whose entire collection of ballads inhabit one of my Spotify playlists :).

The humour

And to finish with a little humour… Actually, a lot of disarming humour to help the sociological pills to be swallowed methinks. The trailer above shows how Deepak carries around his wedding photo to show what Phool looks like, except she is heavily veiled in it.

A couple more funny moments, hopefully not too nuanced…

In pleading with the MLA to help them find Phool, one of Deepak’s friends tries to win his support by proclaiming, “You get at least twenty votes from his family of seven people”. When Jaya is asked to identify her home village, she gets caught in her lies about the names of non-existent villages, until her escape sounds so reasonable: ‘Every time the government changes, the names of our village change as well.’

Ahh, yes it is a wonderful case study in cultural exegesis, as is often the case with movies—but my mind wanders, almost uncontrollably, on to reading the movie through the lens of biblical exegesis and the impact that the gospel would make on these issues and characters and communities.

nice chatting



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About Me


the art of unpacking

After a childhood in India, a theological training in the USA and a pastoral ministry in Southland (New Zealand), I spent twenty years in theological education in New Zealand — first at Laidlaw College and then at Carey Baptist College, where I served as principal. In 2009 I began working with Langham Partnership and since 2013 I have been the Programme Director (Langham Preaching). Through it all I've cherished the experience of the 'gracious hand of God upon me' and I've relished the opportunity to 'unpack', or exegete, all that I encounter in my walk through life with Jesus.


  1. Raman on May 11, 2024 at 11:23 pm

    You inspired me to watch this movie.

    • Paul Windsor on May 12, 2024 at 4:15 am

      I am glad, Raman. Don’t forget to think about the difference that the gospel can make… 🙂

      Best wishes, Paul

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