Language : Hindi | Running Time : 116 Minutes | Director : Nagesh Kukunoor
We have heard about little girls being sold to the flesh trade. We have heard about some underage girls working in the red light district after being sold by their own family or being kidnapped from their villages. The person selling the girl might be family or in some cases might be just another middleman. Underage girls are commodities. In one scene it is told that an underage, virgin girl is raped by a man because he thinks that he will be cured of AIDS if he manages to have intercourse with her. Little girls are commodities. Nagesh Kukunoor‘s “Lakshmi” is the story of a girl who is caught in such a trade; taken away from her family and humiliated, raped and her never dying will to survive and escape.
By all means, this isn’t a story that is going to be easy or fun. It takes a grave issue that’s hurting the society and it tries to be a film that will make us feel for the women being subjected to the cruelty is paints. It is a story that should make us think and Nagesh Kukonoor’s Lakshmi has a story that can chill us to the roots of our bones. Lakshmi(Monali Thakur) is a 14 year old girl who is sold to the flesh trade. She is taken in by a big shot, Rama Reddy(Satish Kaushik) and is allowed to be in his house. One day he rapes her, a scene which raises your hair, making you cringe at how cruel man can be. Nagesh Kukunoor establishes the cruelty of man with great effect here. He establishes how a girl loses her innocence, in minutes. When she cries that she won’t apply mehendi again and that he leave her alone, you are torched, helpless and you pray that you are not seeing it, that Rama Reddy doesn’t hut the girl. When she sits in the car and accuses Amma(Vibha Chibber) of allowing it to happen, telling that she always knew and yet she didn’t stop it, you break along with the innocence that has been snatched away from her.
If Rama Reddy raping the girl is not sufficient enough to make us realise how cruel he can be, his brother/aide, Chinna (Nagesh Kukunoor) telling Jyoti(Shefali Shah) to have guys force themselves on Lakshmi, giving her no time to breathe very well establishes how heartless and cruel these men can be. Chinna, walking with a swagger that shows that he can’t be touched, beating the women black and blue when a girl tries to run away and holding a spiked wooden slapper to threaten them is a sufficient enough picture to drive home the point. But Nagesh Kukunoor doesn’t stop at that. My problems with this movie arose with how much it tried to depict reality. In an attempt to be real, Nagesh Kukunoor goes overboard. Even though he has established that these men are cruel and that actions not of monetary benefit to them have punishments, he starts showing each and every punishment, making us grow numb as the film progresses, having us avert our eyes and pushes the point so much that we hurt to even feel. We didn’t have to see that image of a cigarette being used to burn a woman’s vagina. We needn’t need such a scene to show the tyranny. The story of the little girl is enough to make us feel numb, think about her and others like her and all it achieves is pushing us to the point of aversion.
The biggest problem with Nagesh Kukunoor’s reality is that it pushes us to the point of feeling sympathetic for the girls and hatred towards the men and also a sense of disgust at ourselves. It is the feeling that we are driving inwards after failing to feel anything more. This isn’t the intention of the film but I couldn’t help myself to this weird feeling. It is disturbing and too encompassing in its numbness and reality.
The first half of the film is a stinging look at how brothels work and how the trade survives. When Lakshmi runs to the cops, the cop drinks water and closes his pen when he hears the name Rama Reddy. These people are connected. We identify that. These are not men who can be pushed over and there’s no one who will bring them to justice. The women and girls involved in the trade are not involved because they want to be, they would love to be away but what do they afterwards. Like the sensational Flora Saini as Swarna recounts, she is really fit for nothing. Making baskets isn’t what she has to do for a living and she doesn’t know anything but to be sexy and attract men. She has no choice but to return to being a prostitute. Nagesh Kukunoor has gems like this scene to keep things moving and he has a fine grip on the issue but where it really stumbles is on how it hits the emotional trenches.
The second half of the film is more of a courtroom exercise in bringing the men to justice and this is where the script falters. From here on, it becomes a standard issue treatment rather than the hard hitting sociological take that the first half was. The movie starts becoming an exercise as it ostracises the culprits. It tries to be more human and make Lakshmi a hero for standing up and she deserves to be a hero but the ostracisation is the kind that is reduced to a lifetime of soap operatic feels. It deserved more grilling, more drama to sustain after the excellent first half. The first half numbed us with its brilliance and emotional beatings but the second half pushes it by being crude and slightly insensitive. It becomes disturbing.
Nagesh Kukunoor’s Lakshmi is a film on a grave and serious subject and has some wonderful performances that hit the subject home but what it lacks is the right dosage of emotional troughs that it should have dealt with. It becomes too high handed and silly in the second half and meanders its way to a sweet finish but all the time we are too numb to feel anything further. It is a highly disturbing film which makes us avert our eyes from what it shows and drive our feelings inside, making us hate what we might be capable of.