Dedicated to South Asian girls, thesis film ‘Ladke’ pays homage to rom-com genre
Shubhra Dubey plays Saloni in “Ladke,” a short film directed by fourth-year film and television student Sruchi Patel. In the short, Saloni seeks out the owner of the most eye-catching shoes on campus. (Photo courtesy of Sruchi Patel. Photo illustration by Isabella Lee/Illustrations Director)
June 11, 2023 8:09 p.m.
Sruchi Patel is lacing together nostalgia and on-screen representation in her newest short film.
The fourth-year film and television student recently directed her thesis film, “Ladke,” which follows the musically talented, yet insecure, Saloni, who spots an eye-catching pair of sneakers on campus. Seeking her own love story, she embarks on a quest to find the boy wearing them. The short film, which takes inspiration from various romantic comedies, is dedicated to South Asian girls seeking on-screen representation, said fourth-year physiological science student and producer Anuradha Srikanth.
“It’s our take on the Cinderella story,” Srikanth said. “It’s just our way of writing an ode and an amazingly cute rom-com to all the brown girls that we’ve ever known in our lives.”
Patel said she conceptualized the plot of “Ladke” in the summer of 2022. During this time, she was engrossed by films and television shows featuring South Asian protagonists, such as “Ms. Marvel” and “Wedding Season,” Patel said. Coupling her penchant for filmmaker Nora Ephron’s romance movies, Patel was motivated to tell a similar story that incorporates coming-of-age elements and features two South Asian leads, she said.
As an homage to romantic comedies, “Ladke” contains a number of Easter eggs in reference to other films in the genre, specifically through its technical elements, Patel said. For instance, she said the warm and soft lighting is a callback to the visual aesthetic of “When Harry Met Sally.” Comparably, Patel said the vibrant color palette resembles the one utilized in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”
Additionally, “Ladke” employs childhood nostalgia, which Srikanth said is exemplified by animated sequences inspired by the television show “Lizzie McGuire.” In the film, Patel said, Saloni’s self-contemplation manifests as a hand-drawn character to provide a clearer perspective of her thoughts.
“For the animation part, I really like inner voice … like the devil and angel on the shoulder,” Patel said. “The inspiration of seeing all those different physical inner voice representations was the reason for animated Saloni.”
As for character development, Patel said Saloni’s lack of external confidence at the beginning of “Ladke” was a deliberate choice. She said many South Asian female characters, like Devi Vishwakumar from “Never Have I Ever” and Bela Malhotra from “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” are extroverted and outwardly candid upon viewers’ first introduction to them. Although Saloni doesn’t have such self-assurance at the beginning of “Ladke,” she eventually finds it at the end of the short film, Patel said.
Moreover, Patel wanted Saloni to explore a nontraditional career path as well, she said. Although the protagonist’s major isn’t explicitly stated, Patel said various details in “Ladke” imply that she is studying an arts-related field. For example, she said Saloni’s room is decorated with popular music and movie posters. The quirky aesthetic of Saloni’s outfits alludes to her creative passions as well, Patel said.
Third-year cinematic arts, film and television production student and leading actress Shubhra Dubey, who wrote for the Daily Bruin from 2020-2021 and now attends the University of Southern California, said she was initially drawn to Saloni’s character because of her relatability. She added that she appreciated how the script didn’t place a disproportionate emphasis on her identity. Dubey said she was glad that Saloni’s race and ethnicity were not the only obvious traits viewers would take away from the short film.
“I just felt like I was playing myself as an Indian American,” Dubey said. “It was really nice to not have to kind of shove my Indian identity down people’s throats but also not try to hide it. So it felt like a very authentic way of presenting characters that I see all around me in my story.”
When drafting the script, Patel said she wanted to showcase the characters’ appreciation of their culture through more subtle details in the film. The decor on Saloni’s wall incorporates old Filmfare magazines featuring notable Bollywood personalities, including actress Raveena Tandon and late singer Lata Mangeshkar, Patel said. Such nods, Srikanth said, are also evidenced through Saloni’s conversations with her love interest as they bond over their similar upbringings.
Furthermore, Srikanth said “Ladke” was a story told and made by South Asians, since most of the cast and crew are members of the community. The film also pays homage to Indian culture through the soundtrack, as all of the musicians are South Asian, Patel said. Ultimately, Srikanth hopes “Ladke” will encourage aspiring South Asian filmmakers to tell the stories true to their hearts, she said.
“It’s one story in this huge flood we’re seeing of South Asian movies and projects,” Srikanth said. “This is just one of many, and we’re glad to be expanding the narrative of what it means to be South Asian.”