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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Shelly Chopra Dhar talks Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Filmmaking & LGBTQ Representation in Bollywood

Shelly Chopra Dhar has not just made a film with Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (ELKDTAL). She has made history.

Within just a few months since Section 377’s abolishment, we have witnessed a sensible and subtle same-sex love story. 

ELKDTAL is one of the first mainstream Hindi films which has exhibited the LGBTQ community in a mature and ordinary way.

To make such a film which breaks glass ceilings regarding same-sex relations in Bollywood.

Filme Shilmy caught up with Shelly to speak about her directorial debut, representation of homosexuality in Bollywood and her experience of filmmaking.

This is your first film. So why venture into the Bollywood industry with a film like ELKDTAL?

I think it’s a story that is very important and carries a subject which needed to be told.

The representation of the LGBTQ community in the past, I feel, has not been appropriate.

It has either been shown in a derogatory fashion or for comic relief.

Instead of helping to create the equality we were all looking for, it worked the other way.

This is because people go out thinking it validates their thinking and reactions.

I really wanted to change that and come out strongly with a film which deals with it as normal as any other love affair which is how it should be.

Really speaking there should be no difference because love is love it should not be qualified by anything.

The film released just a few months after the abolishment of section 377. Do you think this has helped the audience to accept the film?

To be honest, I don’t think it would’ve helped in that way.

Just because a law is taken away, it doesn’t mean the mind-sets change overnight.

It takes a long time for the change to happen after it’s written on a piece of paper.

However, it helps in the spirits of the LGBTQ community because now it is not illegal anymore.

But does it change the mindsets overnight? I don’t think so.

Does it change the acceptance (within society) because same-sex relationships are legal? I wish it was as simple as that.

How prepared were big actors like Anil Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao and Juhi Chawla in doing the film… Did it take much convincing?

Honestly, it didn’t. They actually loved the script and to their credit, they wanted to be a part of it.

The way I saw this as a historical film, they did too.

We all knew we were breaking grounds and doing something new/different.

We are pioneers in this field and have not seen this film handled in mainstream cinema with the way we have.

I think they were all proud to be a part of it.

Making a film on same-sex relationships or any love story for that matter isn’t easy. What were some of the hurdles you had to overcome?

I cannot think of any hurdles specifically because of this film that I made.

There are hurdles during the filmmaking process, no matter what.

Every day is a new bridge you have to cross.

It really is like a roller-coaster ride, one day is enjoyable whilst another may drag.

So it’s a constant battle.

There are days where you think ‘my gosh, I’ve won it all’.

Then there are times when you’ll think ‘what the hell am I doing here’?

Did having your brother, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, on board as a producer help you as a filmmaker?

Actually, on the contrary (laughs). I think it is harder.

Because what happens is that the expectations increase.

The expectations were so high that I had to perform at a very high level for him to think that I’m giving my 100%.

I had to double that amount.

Listen to our podcast with Shelly Chopra Dhar here!


According to one of your interviews, he didn’t come on-set so that you don’t feel pressured?  

It wasn’t just me, but he hasn’t done that for any director who makes a film under his banner.

That makes him a great producer.

It’s rightly so (he doesn’t come on the sets), especially a giant director like Vinod Chopra!

All of us have been newcomers at some point.

He chooses not to come because he knows that it would change the equation on the set.

For instance, if there are Vinod and me on the set and Anil is performing, who is he going to look at?

Now that you’ve made ELKDTAL, do you have any plans to take this film forward in raising more awareness regarding the awareness of same-sex relationships throughout India?

One hopes that the word-of-mouth builds up and that it builds up to such an extent that even the smaller town people watch the film.

I hope the government helps it and I hope they see the value in this as a class 101 for people to come and see it.

If I was in power, I would take this film to smaller towns/villages and show it.

I would show it for free to students and especially their parents, so maybe if their child is gay, they know how to deal with it.

I’m sure other directors will show this subject on a mainstream level.

We sincerely congratulate Shelly Chopra Dhar for this courageous, confident and sincere effort in educating and entertaining the audience.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is out in cinemas now.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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