TIFF 2023 | Lost Ladies (Kiran Rao, India) — Centrepiece

By Ally Oman

It’s an easy enough mistake: when two brides, Jaya and Phool, board a train wearing identical wedding saris and veils over their faces, there is no way for their new husbands to recognize that each has mistaken the other man’s wife for his own. With jaunty humour, Kiran Rao’s Shakespearean mistaken-identity tale tactfully acknowledges Indian tradition and manners without seeking to dismantle them. A simplistic take on traditional women’s face-coverings is made far more playful by the two brides’ perspectives, as they try without success to look for familiar faces around them and must instead peer down at their feet to ensure they do not stumble along their paths. The veil is an obstruction that denies visibility both ways, casting a possibility for misunderstanding between Jaya, Phool, and anyone they meet. 

With a cast of crooked cops, deceitful beggars, and a group of criminal women posing as brides to steal dowries, no one here is truly malicious: they are all on their own path, each existing without disqualifying any other. The titular Lost Ladies are ciphers for the opposing but coexisting desires of contemporary Indian women; marriage may be desirable or it may be confining; housework is neither above nor below education;  and passion may be personally fulfilling or it may support a community. The balance between opposing values ring of old- and new-world thinking, like the pairing of Shakespearean narrative with contemporary values, creating a pleasurable and deceptively uncomplicated mash-up of ideas and form.