Tikli and Laxmi Bomb movie review: Netflix film gets its atmospherics right despite tiresome screenplay
The message is commendable, the idea progressive and so, in spite of its creative issues, Tikli and Laxmi Bomb is somehow a gratifying watch.
Aditya Kripalani has adapted his 2015 book of the same name to make a fictional feature set in the world of sex workers in Mumbai. The depth in the material gives Tikli and Laxmi Bomb the milieu, characters and texture – a noir feel – that lends itself to cinema.
Two sex workers from Mumbai – Putul (Chitrangada Chakraborty), a rebellious newbie, and a weary veteran Laxmi Malwankar (Vibhawari Deshpande) – develop a bond and an idea. They experiment with an idea to create an autonomous system that liberates them from bondage to levels of male exploitation. These include the pimp and the police among others. Are they successful in their slightly naive and idealistic endeavour? Will the sisterhood of street walkers stay united? Will the men step aside and give in to a new order without a fight? Who or what is Tikli? The answers to these questions are in the film, which is now streaming on Netflix.
Forty-year-old Laxmi protectively oversees her brood of girls and manages the tension-filled equation with the chain of men claiming their pound of flesh. Deshpande conveys physical exhaustion and resignation, and evokes sympathy for the woman who has succumbed to the roll of dice. Chakraborty plays the rebel challenging the patriarchal system with aplomb. In contrast, Upendra Limaye, as the pimp Mhatre, is loud and over the top. The cops are largely unscrupulous stereotypes. The cast also includes Suchitra Pillai as another veteran streetwalker and Mayur More as AT, the rickshaw driver with a vanquished Bollywood dream.
Converting a book to a screenplay requires a particular skill and the most glaring flaw in Tikli is this. As the story, screenplay and dialogue writer, as well as the director, Kripalani has spelt out every emotion, every action and the result of every action has also been shown. The graph of the film is like a wave – it takes the audience up and down just as it does the characters, but after a while, this rhythm becomes tiresome. The use of songs adds drag to the narrative, which would have benefited from some inventive editing.
Collaborating with an all-woman crew, what Kripalani does achieve effectively is creating the mis-en-scene. The locations and the dark, seedy streets, the costumes and lighting build the tension as these girls place themselves in potential danger as they drive away with strangers night after night. Credit to Kripalani for handling the subject with sensitivity and care, addressing issues of gender inequality, championing feminism and addressing the plight of sex workers respectfully. The message is commendable, the idea progressive and so, in spite of its creative issues, Tikli and Laxmi Bomb is somehow a gratifying watch.
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