Laapta Ladies and Women Empowerment

“Ek baar ghunghat le liya, toh aage nahi neeche dekh kar chalna seekho.” This line said at the start of the movie by the mother of one of the leads, Phool, represents exactly the idea this movie aims to highlight. Throughout the movie, we see how girls, especially in underprivileged areas, are sometimes trained simply for one thing: to be someone’s wife. Laapata Ladies, a remarkable movie, has done a brilliant job at examining and understanding the small bounds of freedom and the different ways of exercising it that are intrinsic in every woman. It has shown how women’s empowerment is not a straitjacket experience for all and that women are capable of creativity beyond the mind of any man. 

While the problems and issues taken up by the movie may seem to be repetitive with those in the urban sphere, they are very much still very real and persistent. For instance, one of the issues highlighted is dowry. According to a study done in 2021 in UP and Bihar to understand the factors contributing to dowry found out that 86% of adolescent girls had paid some form of dowry to their husbands. This article aims to express and illustrate various subthemes undertaken by this movie while addressing their relevance and implications in the current scenario.

Read More: How Dowry Abuse Becomes a Concern for Women’s Mental Health

Brief Summary About The Laapta Ladies (Spoiler Alert)

This section is to briefly acquaint you with the movie in case you have not seen it or forgotten. The plot essentially follows the aftermath of two brides from rural backgrounds. who happened to board the same train and were seated in the same berth. Our two dynamic brides showcase two very different sides of womanhood, these are Jaya/Pushpa Rani and Phool. The movie begins with Phool marrying Deepak, a couple who seems to be in love. However, the only instruction Phool is given is to follow her husband.

They board the train that will take them to Deepak’s village where his family eagerly awaits him and his new wife. It just so happens that the train section they are seated in also has two other newlywed couples. All the wives had been instructed to keep their faces hidden under their veil otherwise they would bring dishonour to the family. In the rush of getting off the train in the middle of the night, Deepak accidentally grabs the arm of someone who is not his wife, he realises his mistake later as his family tells the bride to show herself. The girl who gets off with him introduces herself as Pushpa Rani and has little to no knowledge about her actual husband besides his name, Pankaj. 

Read More: How Media Influences Women’s Empowerment

On the other hand, a newlywed Phool awakes from her slumber only to find her husband gone and stranded on a random station with no knowledge of her supposed destination. Investigations are carried out on both accounts but everyone is dumbfounded due to the lack of knowledge and training that was never given to the girls. We later begin to understand that everyone had underestimated Pushpa who was carrying out her secret plan which is revealed at the end of the movie. 

As the story goes forward, Phool begins adjusting to her new life and Pushpa continues dedicatedly with her mission. It is slowly revealed that Pushpa is Jaya who took her chance to escape her shady husband who was speculated to be mistreating and burning his last wife. It is found that she never actually wanted to get married, rather she simply wanted to learn and has the aptitude to do so. Eventually, both women find happiness, Phool with the man she loves and Jaya as she runs away to study and become something. Now, we will examine certain themes underlying this movie about women’s empowerment. 

Perpetuating Patriarchy 

Throughout the movie, it is easily noticeable that patriarchy has been perpetuated. Given that the entire movie is set against the background of this form of social oppression, we have chosen certain instances which highlight practices that perpetuate patriarchy and oppression of women in a family setting. These have been given below: 

  • Keep your head down. As mentioned above, from the very beginning of the movie, the girl is asked to keep her eyes down. This furthers this idea since the girl mustn’t look anyone in the eyes for she is not worthy of doing so. Moreover, the wife is only supposed to look at the husband’s feet and nothing else. This is also a metaphor that after marriage, there is nothing that a girl must look forward to, she must only look down and be obedient. 
  • Purdah System/The Veil. The Purdah system is an older system which had originated in the 7th century BCE. It is a system based on seclusion of women and aimed at excluding women from the public sphere. It required women to always have their faces covered in front of others lest it would bring dishonour to their families. The veil, which was the root of the confusion, happens to perpetuate this system further. 
  • Khoichha. The khoichha is something that the brides are handed at the time of their wedding and they are asked to take care of it for it signifies the good health and happiness of the husband. This illustrates how women are required to perform certain rituals for their husband’s good health but this is not always returned. 
  • Dowry. A very important and still prevalent social practice that the movie has shed light on is dowry. Essentially, it refers to some form of property or money that is given to the husband from the bride’s side usually to compensate for the expenses the groom’s family would be taking on when the bride goes to live in their house. In the movie, one of the scenes shows a man reading a newspaper which talks about how a newlywed wife ran away from her husband with all her dowry. This can be seen as another way of breaking through the gilded cage that women are pushed into.
  • Obedience or learned helplessness? Women since they are children are taught to hold their tongue and follow all orders they are given. They are taught to not ask questions for it is not their place to do so. So eventually women in the film, in their lives, have stopped asking questions even when it is required (like asking about the name of your husband’s village in case of phool). 

This appears to be similar to the concept of learned helplessness as given by the founder of mainstream positive psychology, Martin Seligman. This concept holds that if an individual gets used to aversive conditions, sooner or later they stop trying to get out of such situations. Similarly, the older women in the film had gotten used to the sustained oppression that happened against them. 

Read More: Overcoming Learned Helplessness for Mental Well-Being

Nothing less than an object 

For the longest time, women have been treated as nothing more than objects, something to be disposed of as soon as possible. Upper-class women, as soon as they come of age, are required to put their best foot forward to win a prosperous match in the marriage market. There are other various scenes in the movie where this idea is reiterated. 

  • Dowry over the girl. When the police are informed that Jaya is missing with about 150 grams of gold on her, the police immediately begin their investigation to find the runaway bride. It should be noted that the police were more worried about her dowry when she went missing rather than her well-being. 
  • Story of Manju Dadi and Domestic Violence. Phool finds refuge under the care of an elderly woman who runs a tea stall at the railway station she gets off at. This elderly woman is Manju dadi who tells the girl about why she started the stall. She was beaten constantly by her drunk husband and son who said that they were merely exercising their right as people who loved her.
  • A Means To Their End. When Deepak approaches a politician to help spread the message of Phool’s disappearance in hopes of getting a wider reach, he is met with a remarkably upsetting response. The politician used the missing Phool to spread propaganda about the opposition as he donned a garland onto a grieving Deepak. 

Sustaining Inequalities

Inequalities and human suffering can be understood in the metaphor of a hamster trapped forever in a wheel. Inequalities are sustained through time and generation due to traditions and socialisation. Moreover, they are propagated by those already part of that system because they do not know anything else. There are certain such instances which highlight systems of oppression in place in our country: 

  • Illiteracy Among Women. Phool doesn’t know much because she’s never been taught anything besides to be someone’s wife. Even when Jaya wanted to learn, she was not allowed to rather she was married off to the first person who would accept her. In India, as of 2021, 8.5% of women are still illiterate. This way of excluding women from institutions of education only equips them with the helplessness of their situation. Jaya was too aware of this and thus could only see running away as the sole solution. Depriving women of education is a method aimed at preventing them from becoming “disobedient”. 
  • Systems of oppression. While the movie revolves around the systemic violence against women, it also highlights different systems of oppression in place which all contribute to keeping each other alive and in place – where one exists, so do others. For instance, the bribed police officer would rather be looking for the 150 grams of gold than the girl who went missing for it (while there is a change of heart here as we approach the end of the movie, it is worth mentioning that even law enforcement officers contribute to women feeling constantly unsafe). 
  • Moral Obligations of Cheating the System. Abdul, a character shown to be handicapped and begging for money is then revealed to be fit and even a great runner, has to cheat the system to survive. “Jaisa Hota hai vaise dikhta nahi hai”. These methods are adopted by Abdul to survive in a world where economic exclusion is evident and not even slightly subtle. Similarly, while Jaya was reprimanded for running away when people understood her reason, they were apologetic and agreed that her actions were justified. In a system that does not cater to you, one must find a way to survive in it as one continues to exist with it. 

Leaving Behind the Delicate Illusion 

One of the most common stereotypes that are attached to women is that they are extremely delicate and soft. The worst thing a woman can do is to raise her voice towards a man. However, Laapataa Ladies has illustrated the different ways women break the mould, often even using the stereotypes and notions attached to them. 

  • Taking Advantage of the Disadvantage. Jaya or Pushpa’s parents underestimate her aptitude for learning, forcing her to do the only thing she is good for- marriage. Pushpa makes a genius move and uses this same underestimation to her advantage. Now, how would anyone even think that the soft and scared Pushpa was the bold and brave Jaya? She took advantage of her image and continued the illusion as she applied various methods to achieve her goals.
  • Manju Dadi and her resilience. Perhaps the bravest idea of fighting back is showcased by the strong Manju Dadi who was abandoned by her husband and her son as soon as she reversed the treatment they showed to her. Manju Dadi throughout the movie is a character who is admired and feared by those around her. “Iss baar toh maine chutney bhi nahi li ” is a humorous line delivered by one of Dadi’s regular customers after being scolded by her for taking too much on earlier occasions. This shows just the power she holds.
  • Same struggle, different paths. Both Jaya and Phool have the same fight to fight – the patriarchy. However, these are two very different women. While Jaya may appear to be the more clear-cut image or archetype we use for women’s empowerment, Phool’s journey is no less impressive. While Jaya was running away from an abusive husband, Phool had gotten separated from the man she loved. Phool, as she begins working, realises she has been capable of it all along. “Hum ladkiyon ko kahe mauka nahi dete, dadi? Kahe humko itna laachaar banate hai?” This dialogue said by Phool shows her change in thinking as she bursts out of the bubble she has always been forced into. 

Adaptation for Survival: Evolutionary Response 

Personality theories curated onto Darwin’s idea of evolution, talk about how our behaviours and actions are constantly aimed around surviving and adapting to our surroundings. The women in the movie, whether they choose to exist within this oppression or break away from it are all centred around attempting to live and survive. Here are certain ways the women did to ensure this. 

  • Manju’s tea stall. After being abandoned for good by her husband and son, Manju Maai knew what she had to do to survive. She began her tea stall which helped her escape the cycle of oppression in the sense that she was no longer financially dependent on any man which gave her more freedom to exercise her own will. 
  • Jaya’s steps for survival. Jaya lied, cheated and betrayed those she made a vow to, all to escape and survive. Women will adopt any means necessary to survive the system into which they are thrown. While, initially, her actions are scorned by the other characters, she is later accepted to be good and seen as the much-needed hero of women’s empowerment. 
  • New-Found Innovation. Phool begins to accept her role as a helper to Manju Dadi and is quite happy making a living for herself so much so that she gets inspired and comes up with new ideas to help. Her idea of keeping Kalakand is greatly appreciated by all and makes her have more faith in her abilities.

Read More: What Is Feminist Psychology?

Women Helping Women: Stronger Together 

When one of us shines, all of us shine. Women become each other’s biggest ally as we talk about systemic oppression. 

  • Deepak’s mother. When Pushpa comes with Deepak and she pretends to be frightened, Deepak’s mother tries her best to make the bride feel comfortable in their home especially since she’s been in a strange place. Another instance that illustrates her inner feminist is when her and her mother-in-law happily talk about how the two girls are getting along and finding solace within each other. 
  • Manju. Manju Maai sees a stranded Phool and is more than willing to help her get back on her feet and be freed from the shambles of her situation and patriarchy in general. This shows that she was a real girls’ girl who wanted nothing more than to make all girls independent so that they didn’t go through everything she did. 
  • Pushpa and Poonam. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the friendship that is formed between Pushpa and Poonam, Deepak’s sister-in-law. Pushpa recognises Poonam’s artistic side and promotes her even more. She helps Poonam accept and embrace her creativity when no one else would. Furthermore, Poonam also returns the favour by helping Pushpa find Phool.

Read More: Women for Women


All in all, this movie projects a remarkable portrait of feminism. Feminism is present in every little rebel and every little action that helps you fight the systems in place and advocate for not just equality but also equity. At the end of the movie, we notice that Phool has left behind her koicchha which represents her freedom from traditions that did not advocate for women’s rights and happiness. To conclude, movies such as these are an important vessel of important messages that must become inherent to all individuals for the fostering of a harmonious society. 

References +
  • Srivastava, S., Patel, R., Marbaniang, S. P., Kumar, P., Paul, R., & Dhillon, P. (2021). Banned by the law, practised by the society: The study of factors associated with dowry payments among adolescent girls in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, India. PloS One, 16(10), e0258656. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0258656 
  • The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (1998, July 20). Purdah | Veil, Seclusion & Gender Roles. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/purdah#:~:text=purdah%2C%20practice%20that%20w as%20inaugurated,and%20curtains%20within%20the%20home. 
  • Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 | Ministry of Women & Child Development|IN|dbppw. (n.d.). https://wcd.nic.in/act/dowry-prohibition-act-1961 
  • Nuvvula, S. (2016). Learned helplessness. Contemporary Clinical Dentistry, 7(4), 426. https://doi.org/10.4103/0976-237x.194124
  • Female literacy rate in India (2010 – 2021, %). (n.d.). GlobalData. https://www.globaldata.com/data-insights/macroeconomic/female-literacy-rate-in-india
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