When word got out that Akshay Kumar will be playing a transgender character in a movie, I wasn’t all that surprised. Considering the roles he’s played in order to garner mass appeal, it’s not a stretch to expect him to play a kinnar. However, what I didn’t expect was that a movie about the trans community in India could be so…transphobic.
Not to mention un-watchable.
Laxmii is a Bollywood remake of the Tamil Kanchana series. Written by Raghava Lawrence, Farhad Samji, Tasha Bhambra, Sparsh Khetarpal and directed by Larence, it has a star cast of Akshay Kumar, Kiara Advani, Sharad Kelkar, Rajesh Sharma, Ayesha Raza Mishra among others. The plot is about Asif, a Muslim man who is a ghostbuster by profession, and how his belief in logic and science shatters when he gets possessed by a transgender’s ghost.
This film is what would politically be known as ‘minority appeasement’. Simply representing a minority community on the bigscreen isn’t okay just because filmmakers can satisfy their saviour complex to ‘appease’ people from ‘all walks of life’. Priya, played by Advani, says sweetly towards the end of the movie that words like ‘male, female, transgender, third gender’ are all given by us. Everyone should just be equal. For a movie that claims to speak to a seemingly uneducated, violent public about equality, it sure does make a mockery out of the very minorities it tries to appease. And every other identity that exists.
For starters, Asif’s Musim identity is the reason why him and Priya have been shunned by her family. Their 9 year old nephew is shocked that Priya’s parents are “still stuck in a Hindu-Muslim conflict”. On visiting her family in Daman — stereotypical North Indian quirky parents who take advantage of the cheap liquor — he becomes possessed by the ghost of a transwoman. Priya’s family is first cold towards him and then terrified as he does ostensibly feminine things like wearing bangles, speaking in a feminine tone and, well, wearing haldi and sarees.
So, Asif becomes a kinnar — rather, is possessed by the ghost of a kinnar — and in the most obnoxious way. He claps his hands, does roaring dances, screams and terrifies people. Of course. The one time that a kinnar is played by a Bollywood hero, it has to be so flashy and over the top extra, that it becomes a mockery. The ghost who possesses him went by Laxmii, played by Sharad Kelkar, whose end was brought about by politicians (of course) who stole her land. Most appallingly, she was raised by a kind Muslim man and his disabled son after being kicked out by his cruel parents. Basically, Raghava Lawrence thought it’d be super cool and progressive to house a Muslim, a transperson and a disabled child together. Nail 3 birds with one stone, or rather, 3 minorities with one reductive, offensive narrative.
As the plot becomes progressively unbearable, so does the technical parts of its cinema. Kiara Advani seems to be just reading lines from a script and looking pretty. Akshay Kumar doesn’t ‘switch’ from Asif to Laxmii; he very obviously has breaks between the two (to change) and portrays one as a rational and the other as an over-the-top personality, just to really make sure we know who she is. The camera sways as though controlled by a drunk, the acting (by everybody) becomes abysmal and forcefully comedic, the fight sequence is straight out of the 80s and disgustingly offensive to the trans community, and I find myself wondering if this movie could perhaps actually be a parody. Because the cheap, fake set, tacky costumes and relentless battle cries (that were matching my real cries) were simply far too awful to take the film seriously. The music was sparse (thankfully) but melodramatic when totally unnecessary, and the Bam Bholle song has to be one of the most appalling displays of trans people, what with Akshay Kumar ravenously jumping and dancing around.
I just kept wondering why this movie was so unbearable, and it came down to all the things it was trying to say. While it is absolutely fine (necessary, even) to call archaic Hindus out on ridiculous rituals, films like Rajkumar Hirani’s PK managed to do it without being offensive or bonkers; by simply portraying the absurdity in realistic fashion. Minority representation on screen is imperative to create a more inclusive society — the portrayal of a trans character in Super Deluxe, for instance, is so beautiful and heartbreaking, especially because Vijay Sethupathi found the heart to the role of a trans woman, and not the glamorous gimmicks around it. Here, it was all about the gimmicks. And horror comedies? Why, there are so many who get the job done by being actually funny and actually terrifying, instead of depending on stock characters with poor punchlines or impotent shadows and the soul of Laxmii’s ghost that just looked like a black carpet. Every single purpose of this film foiled its own self, making the audience wonder what they were on while creating it.
Look, I’m not one who gets easily offended. But this film has done the impossible. Trans people, women, men, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, babas, shamans, couples, parents, kids, nephews, human beings, ghosts…it offends just about every community. And not in a clever, funny way. Some movies are offensive without any purpose and without any wit. This is one of them.
Laxmii, I must say, absolutely bombed.