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RGV’s ‘Ladki’ is B-grade Gold 

The film packs a punch, and Pooja Bhalekar has the making of a cult star

Suparna Sharma Jul 22, 2022

A still of Pooja Bhalekar from 'Ladki: Enter the Girl Dragon'

Ladki: Enter the Girl Dragon

Cast: Pooja Bhalekar, Parth Suri, Abhimanyu Singh, TianLong Shi, Rajpal Yadav, Miya Maqi

Direction: Ram Gopal Varma & Jing Liu

Rating: **1/2

Playing in theatres in a few cities

It’s probably been more than a decade since films directed by Ram Gopal Varma stopped arousing interest, forget excitement. At best, his directorial attempts are acknowledged with fleeting curiosity before a pall of gloom settles and our mind, depressingly, goes back to the golden days of Satya (1998).

But neither the lack of our interest in his films, nor the criticism that he makes sexist, exploitative and, frankly, terrible films, have deterred him. RGV continues to churn out films at a rather alarming speed and now the 60-year-old writer-director-producer has released his 57th film, Ladki: Enter the Girl Dragon

But this one is different. It’s special. 

It’s a new milestone not just in RGV’s career, but also in Indian cinema. 

An Indo-Chinese co-production that he has written and co-directed, Ladki: Enter the Girl Dragon marks RGV’s cheerful, full-throttle embrace of the B-grade genre of sexploitation movies and the arrival of a film that will go down as one of India’s greatest ‘grindhouse’ classics. 

But, most importantly, Ladki marks the arrival of Pooja Bhalekar, an action heroine whose skill, speed, range of action and motion are so stunning and exceptional that any comparison with Bollywood’s current action heroes – Tiger Shroff, Vidyut Jamwal, etc – would do her injustice. 

Whatever their fitness goals and achievements, Pooja Bhalekar kicks them out of the park with precision and power.

But since RGV is the guy whose autobiography is titled Guns and Thighs, not for a second does he drop his lusty gaze.

His camera, wielded by Malhar Bhatt Joshi and Rami, stares at Pooja’s boobs, in slow motion, whenever she chases a bad guy. When she is kicking or romancing – both of which require full leg-splits and 180-degree back bends in bikinis – the camera is either focused on her crotch or her pert bottom.

I tried to count the number of bikinis she is made to wear in the film and the amount of time she spends prancing in the sea or on the sea shore. I got exhausted. Suffice to say that in the film’s eight-minute extended trailer, Ms Bhalekar wears about 18 different bikinis. Some feathery, a few leathery, all flimsy, many wet. But it is to Ms Bhalekar’s credit that she transcends RGV’s lewd gaze with her body confidence and fighting skill. Her fitness and flexibility are truly another level. 

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I counted again. Ms Bhalekar can stand on one leg and deliver 18 furious flying kicks, without pause or a cut. Throughout the film, she remains oblivious to RGV’s creepy, crawling camera, and stays focused on delivering action sequences that are powerful and perfect.

She truly has the making of a cult action star.

Ladki: Enter the Girl Dragon has a story and a plot, but that’s just an excuse to showcase Pooja (Pooja Bhalekar) in all her glory.

Pooja arrives on the screen dancing, grinding and doing slo-mo gymnastics in sexy clothing to a song that goes, “Bruce Lee, mere Bruce Lee...”  

She is a Bruce Lee bhakt, the sort who corrects anyone who talks of Bruce Lee’s kung fu. “He practiced Jeet Kune Do,” she says with the earnestness of a Shaolin resident and always greets her Master (TianLong Shi) with the fist-in-palm gesture. 

But even before she began training with him, Pooja could take on a jeep load of baddies. 

In the film’s opening scene, Pooja is sitting in an open-air restaurant, trying to read Ayn Rand when some annoying, hairy goondas tease a girl for wearing a mini skirt. Neel (Parth Suri), a photographer who gets beaten up by the goons, swoons as he watches Pooja kick their ass.

Soon, some sad back stories are shared and love begins to blossom. 

Meanwhile, there is Master. He runs a martial arts training studio whose walls are plastered with large portraits of Bruce Lee and his quotes. Master speaks in that one-word-then-full-stop manner which many past kung fu masters have honed into a dialect of sorts. And on the few occasions when Master delivers a full sentence or two, he passes on deep, philosophical gyaan: “Not important where you come from. Important where you want to go”.

Pooja wants to go where there is trouble, i.e. to the den of the film’s key villain (played with revolting greasiness by Abhimanyu Singh) who is given to abducting women he desires and taking over properties he wants. He covets Master’s studio and Pooja.

As the romance between Pooja and Neel gets serious and they maro a quick trip to Bruce Lee’s hometown in Guangdong, China, we are treated to a  practice fight in ankle-high water between Pooja and a Chinese fighter (Miya Maqi). 

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It’s the sort of stuff that is often the centerpiece of exploitation movies. And since Ladki is a merger of two sub genres – Bruceploitation and sexploitation – this sequence has it all: tits, titillation, but also beautifully choreographed kicks and punches. 

For a long time now RGV had been dwelling in the depths of D-grade cinema with talentless women who are nothing more than poor replicas of Urmila Matondkar. So, full marks to him for discovering and presenting Pooja Bhalekar in all her body-confident, badass glory. 

It’s with her talent and help that he is able to rise and claim a space that no one inhabits in India – B-grade gold. 

RGV knows and understands cinema like few other Indian directors, and his Ladki is bold, slick and has a style that’s unique to him. It also has lustiness bordering on obscenity that’s unique to him.

Ram Gopal Varma spares no effort to give Ladki a soft-porn touch. 

While his film portrays the main villain as a very bad, immoral guy who lusts after women and uses them for his pleasure, RGV’s camera does exactly that and more.

His camera is always slithering up Pooja’s thighs, all around her midriff, and in the few scenes where she is wearing skirts, his camera is down below, feverishly trying to scratch its panties fetish. 

That RGV, now a senior citizen, remains as exploitative as he always was, and keeps revisiting his fantasies that lie crumpled on the beach where nymph-like Urmila Matondkar gyrated to “Tanha Tanha,” doesn’t seem to bother or distract Pooja Bhalekar. Not on the screen, at least.

Despite the fact that Pooja is made to do tough, intense action scenes barefeet and in bikinis, with the camera staring at her boobs, ass or crotch, her focus never wavers. 

She doesn’t try to tease or titillate. Nor does she pout to the camera or pander to the director. She remains who she is meant to be in the film –  a feisty fighter who just happens to be sexy. 

Pooja Bhalekar’s ease with her body is very impressive. With graceful confidence she dazzles the camera, making its seedy gaze irrelevant and kinda pathetic. 

Watch Ladki, because it really does mark the entry of a girl dragon.


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