A good movie about humans being exploited needs to be moving, bold and emotionally resonating. Nagesh Kukunoor’s Lakshmi is none of the above, it’s actually an exploitative film about exploitation.
The film chronicles the real life story of Lakshmi (played by Monali Thakur), a 14-year-old girl kidnapped from her village in Andhra, forced into the nightmare of prostitution and eventually testifying 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, has nothing to say except beat us over the head with the plight of sex workers and bawl ‘look at these poor creatures’. That is not good filmmaking. As per the film, Lakshmi was a hero to lakhs of distraught women across the country. She deserved a well-made film, not manipulative, awfully directed, woefully shot, soulless tripe. It’s not even a movie as much as it is 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, of course, 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. It’s rubbish not just because the film contains these shots, but also because the way these shots were filmed. Every harrowing dramatic moment and rape of Lakshmi is absolutely tacky. They are presented in such a grossly amateurish way we’re more put off by the depiction of the brutal incidents rather 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 the cheap shock value. It’s immoral to present a movie as a story of inspirational redemption by throwing in exploitative scenes.
Making matters 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 Shafali Shetty speak in Bombay Hindi and occasionally throw 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 makes me wonder what happened to Kukunoor over the years. This was the same guy who made the wonderful Hyderabad Blues, Iqbal, Dor and 3 Deewarein. The only impression Lakshmi gives is that Kukunoor never recovered from the gigantic failure of 8x10 Tasveer.
(First published in Firstpost)