Trigger warning: Rape
Lakshmi is a film written and directed by Nagesh Kukunoor. The plot revolves around women whose bodies are abused but their courage remains untouched. Kukunoor shows exceptional talent in showing hope and courage in the most unlikeliest of situations. He makes his characters so relatable and human that you connect with who they are, irrespective of their environment
The film is based on a true story of the first convicted case of child prostitution in Andhra Pradesh. Film is inspiring for it brings to light the valiant effort that Lakshmi puts forth into dragging her perpetrators to the court. It highlights the intense hardship, pressure, and indignity she has to go through to ensure that the guilty are punished.
Lakshmi (Monali Thakur), a 14-year-old girl, is kidnapped from her village by Chinna (Nagesh Kukunoor). She is taken to the home of Chinna’s elder brother and boss, Reddy (Satish Kaushik), where she first assumes the role of a domestic worker, helping the much older existing maid, Amma (Vibha Chibber). However, she is later raped by Reddy himself. She lands up in Dharam Vilas after she has been raped by a man she had begun to trust. This scene, like many other in the film, is not easy to watch. It left me cold and frozen with fear and shock.
He works with Lakshmi and develops the bond of trust and makes her see that men are capable of being decent human beings.
The next day, Chinna takes Lakshmi to a brothel managed by Jyothi (Shefali Shah), who is both a reassuring and an oppressive figure to the girls. After her first night at the brothel, Lakshmi manages to run away to a nearby police station, but her complaint falls on deaf ears since Reddy has already paid off the local police force. Thrown into this horrific, inhumane world, she survives with the help of the other girls and her own will to never give in. She forms a close friendship with her roommate at the brothel, Suvarna (Asha Saini), who walks her through the realities of life.
Also read: In Conversation with Hasina Kharbhih: Tackling Trafficking Systematically
This might make Lakshmi sound like a run-of-the-mill struggle to a victory story, which it very well might be. The film, though, sensitises its viewers to the realities around horrific human trafficking and how helpless the situation actually is. At the same time, you do realise that real life must be only worse. The bravery of just one girl, Lakshmi, sounds unreal – and that is what sets the film apart, that it is based on true life. Lakshmi’s bravery is real. So are her struggles.
Ram Kapoor’s role in movie is quite majestic. He makes an appearance as Avinash, an honest lawyer recovering from a nervous breakdown. Avinash must battle his own fears if he wishes to help Lakshmi, but Lakshmi continues to be awkward around him. To her, he is just another man, one who will hurt her sooner or later. But Kapoor brings in the much needed hope to the film. He works with Lakshmi and develops a bond of trust with her and makes her see that men are capable of being decent human beings. This revives her faith in humanity again.
Jyoti (Shifali Shah) who manages the brothel has a daughter far away studying engineering. Though she is efficient with her job, she also hates it. When she sends Lakshmi (Monali Thakur) to her first customer, though she forces her to get done with it, she also tells her, “If you fight and resist, he’s going to enjoy it more. Don’t give him that pleasure.” And Lakshmi’s roommate Swarna (Flora Saini) is shown to actually like her job and does not feel victimised by it.
This is not a story of one Lakshmi but of many Lakshmis who are being sold in the name of poverty, hunger, and greed.
Kukunoor himself is pretty solid playing a despicable sadistic character with quirks (again, the pimp himself is never shown raping any of the girls and he seems to loves his nail polish!). Shifali Shah is brilliant and pulls off a very complex role, while Satish Kaushik is scarily believable as Reddy. His role aptly presents the wicked side of prostitution.
Equal importance has to be given to the unavoidable crass language found in the movie. It’s not just the curse words but the brazen lines with which prostitution and related issues are portrayed that hits you. It is perfectly in tune with the subject in hand, and makes it more realistic.
Also read: Tea Gardens of North Bengal: A Hotbed of Human Trafficking
Lakshmi is an intense movie and is a really difficult one to watch. This movie questions the entire system of police and administration in general. This is not a story of one Lakshmi but of many Lakshmis who are being sold in the name of poverty, hunger, and greed. The childhoods of such girls are being snatched by systems in place. Whether it is GB road in Delhi or Kamathipura in Mumbai – all women who are working in this sector face severe physical, mental, and emotional abuse. Movies like Lakshmi remain an eye-opener to rest of us who are oblivious to such struggles.
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