Lakshmi review: Nagesh Kukunoor's film on trafficking is just offensive
A rare, powerful story of how a young girl was able to get justice for herself has been turned into a film that tries to cash in on India’s surging interest in women’s rights and violence against women.
A good movie about humans being exploited needs to be moving, bold and it needs to resonate emotionally.
Nagesh Kukunoor’s Lakshmi is none of the above. Instead, it’s an exploitative film about exploitation.
The film chronicles the real life story of Lakshmi (played by Monali Thakur), a 14-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her village in Andhra Pradhesh, forced into the nightmare of prostitution and eventually testified in court against her traffickers. Sex trafficking is a major issue in the country and you’d think Kukunoor would take Lakshmi’s story and turn it into a sensitive and affecting motion picture.
Lakshmi, unfortunately, does nothing more than talk about the plight of sex workers with all the nuance of a sledgehammer from a moral high ground that bawls, “Look at these poor creatures!” That is not good filmmaking. It’s less a movie and more a horrible exercise in melodrama that is so clichéd in its depiction of the ignominy of its protagonist that it resembles a Madhur Bhandarkar script flowchart. The only difference is that one can find some masala in Bhandarkar’s films, but Lakshmi has the audacity to pose as a serious movie. This is problematic because the entire film is either deadly dull or unintentionally funny.
To establish the hellish existence of Lakshmi, Kukunoor shows you shots of fat grimy men grinning at her and slowly taking off their clothes over and over again. He shows you shots of a bottle of vaginal cream being emptied over and over again. He shows you Lakshmi being brutally injured over and over again. He shows you Lakshmi washing herself over and over again. Unless your target audience is truck drivers at educational camps, this is manipulative and downright awful filmmaking.
The film is also gross for no apparent reason other than Kukunoor wanting to make us gag in our seats. There are shots of Satish Kaushik slowly stripping and showcasing his impressive bare physique. The way Lakshmi is shot only adds to the trauma of watching such shots. Every harrowing dramatic moment and rape looks tacky and has been presented in such a grossly amateurish way, we’re more put off by the depiction of the brutal incidents than the incidents themselves.
There’s also a beastly scene in the climax straight out of a Hostel movie that does nothing but add to cheap shock value. It’s offensive to both the audience and the woman who inspired this story that these scenes have been thrown in. It’s exploitation all over again.
Making everything worse is the hideous fake Hyderabadi throughout the film. None of the actors are from Hyderabad and their dialect makes Mehmood’s over the top Hyderabadi lingo seem like Ghulam Ali’s ghazals. All the actors, including the lead Monali Thakur and Shefali Shetty speak Hindi in a Mumbai accent, occasionally throwing in words like ‘saary’ and ‘chaacolate’ to sound Hyderabadi.
The authentic Hyderabadi Kukunoor himself undoes his authenticity by wearing garish costumes just to look like a pimp. All this crudeness, in the storytelling and the details, me wonder what has happened to Kukunoor. This same director made the wonderful Hyderabad Blues, Iqbal, Dor and 3 Deewarein. It seems Kukunoor is yet to recover from the gigantic failure of 8x10 Tasveer.
As a result, a rare, powerful story of how a young girl was able to get justice for herself has been turned into a film that tries to cash in on India’s surging interest in women’s rights and violence against women. Lakshmi is a hero to lakhs of distraught women across the country. She deserves a well-made film; not manipulative, awfully directed, woefully shot, soulless tripe.
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