Sridevi Introduces the Ultimate Anti-Heroine, 10 June 2006
Author: akbarnali from United States
If ever someone is daring enough to take an intellectual approach to the history of Hindi films, it will be recorded that "Laadla" was a monumental event in the development of the array of roles enacted by any Indian actress. More than a decade after its release, it remains the most aggressive, anti-establishment, proto-feministic anti-heroine role ever written for a Hindi film. "Laadla" translates to The Beloved Son, and though the film makes it a point to focus on the tender relationship between an ailing elderly mother (Farida Jalal) and her working class son (Anil Kapoor), the film is really about one thing and one thing only: the diabolical and destructive nature of one woman, Sheetal Jetli (Sridevi), a Machiavellian corporate businesswoman who runs her company and family with an absolute iron fist. She is the final and only authority on all matters in which she is involved, and none dare challenge her convictions. Her parents (Anupam Kher and Aruna Irani) cower in her presence, as do the hundreds of employees who populate her various business enterprises. She is constantly browbeating her assistant, Kajal (Raveena Tandon), and is outright loathsome towards her company's second-in-command, Bhandari (Shakti Kapoor), a deceitful partner who wants to see her downfall. The only figure in this cadre of victims who dares to challenge her is an unassuming factory worker, Raj (Anil Kapoor), who sees her stubborn egomania as nothing more than misplaced and unchallenged narcissism. Sheetal and Raj go head-to-head on many issues, but when he does the unthinkable and subordinates her authority, she hatches a plan for revenge. The ultimate revenge, she decides, will not come from the termination of his employment, but from something else altogether: Marriage. Sheetal proposes marriage to Raj, and after a spectacularly manipulative bit of persuading involving Raj's helpless mother, he coalesces and becomes Mr. Sheetal Jetli. This, despite the fact that romance has blossomed between Raj and fellow middle-classer Kajal. The marriage between Sheetal and Raj is realized as a series of masochistic dominations designed to subordinate and break Raj's ego. Sheetal threatens him financially, sexually, and psychologically, and at times Raj is broken, but his spirits are kept up by his relationships with his mother and Kajal. Ultimately, Sheetal's thirst for revenge culminates in her order that Raj be arrested, interrogated and tortured by the police. His mother pleads on his behalf, groveling before Sheetal and imploring her to release him. Sheetal attacks her mother-in-law, causing her to lose her footing and collapse. At that moment, Raj arrives and delivers his final blow against Sheetal, and walks out on her and their mock marriage. At last defeated, Sheetal attempts suicide, but is thwarted by an attempt on her life by her corporate enemies. She is eventually saved by Raj and Kajal, and during recovery promises to start life anew. Amazingly, Raj stays married to Sheetal, who settles into domestic bliss and hands over her company to Kajal. The ending of the film is probably as convoluted as the character Sheetal herself: what is the film trying to say? That women should give up their corporate powers and settle for domesticity? Well, no, because the company is eventually handed over to the much more even-tempered Kajal (probably as a consolation prize for not getting the guy).
"Laadla" is probably best construed as a diatribe against unchecked egomania; the film scores because of the multilateral characterization of Sheetal and the powerhouse performance turned in by Sridevi. Though the film was a huge success at the box-office, it was not a favorite with the masses as it was with critics. The verdict among the intelligentsia was clear: the film works as a character study based on Sridevi's "fatally delicious performance" (Esquire). Raveena Tandon called her character, "Satan captured in female form." Newsweek Asia said, "This is the greatest departure from formula for Indian cinema since the anti-social love story "Lamhe." Kudos to Sridevi and the director Raj Kanwar for taking a real artistic risk." Filmfare called her performance, "Lady Macbeth meets Leona Helmsley: the ultimate she-devil." SCREEN said of Sridevi's performance: "Never has the Indian woman been portrayed as an unsavory demon, so evil and unforgettable is this Satanic Hell Queen." It is interesting that in the year of the record-shattering "Hum Aapke Hain Kaun!" which established the contemporary female archetype as one of mentally arrested passivity, that audiences eagerly lapped up this new wicked and uncompromising anti-heroine. This is undoubtedly testimony to the fact that audiences hold Sridevi to a much higher and diverse standard than other actors. Shah Rukh Khan had been riding the anti-hero wave with two hugely successful films ("Baazigar" and "Darr") but Sridevi was the first actress to tackle the subject with such uncompromising and unapologetic conviction. Sheetal paved the way for a string of new anti-heroines among the younger generation of actresses, including Kajol (Gupt), Juhi Chawla ("Arjun Pandit"), Manisha Koirala (Dil Se, Yugpurush) and Urmila Matondkar (Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya). Sridevi herself would return to the same genre three years later with "Judaai".
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Complete review from Akbarnali from IMDB