Nagesh Kukunoor's movies, generally, mirror reality. The maverick film-maker is known to dabble in societal issues that plague a chunk of the populace. His newest endeavour LAKSHMI is no different. Like some of his earlier films, LAKSHMI depicts the struggle and hardships faced by the protagonist, but there's hope... she overcomes the hurdles with sheer grit and determination. This time around, Kukunoor focuses on the flesh trade and how the physically abused adolescent, after enduring adversities, takes the tyrants to task.
Steering clear of the conventional route undertaken by a majority of film-makers this side of the Atlantic, Kukunoor paints a dark and disturbing picture of sex trafficking. Frankly speaking, you need a strong stomach to absorb a film like LAKSHMI. For, the plight of children pushed into the flesh trade makes you uncomfortableâ€¦ it may even rob you of your sleep when you recall the plight of Lakshmi. But the heroic and spirited stance of the adolescent should act as a wake up call for millions of adolescents across the globe, who have lost hope. And therein lies its strength!
The premise, first! Lakshmi [Monali Thakur] is a beautiful 14-year-old girl whose life takes a tragic turn when she is sold by her father to a lady corporator [Gulfam], who in turn sells her to Chinna [Nagesh Kukunoor], who acts as the front man for Reddy [Satish Kaushik]. Being a child, she is separated from the other girls and taken to Reddy's house, where she is lulled into a false sense of security and then violently raped by Reddy. Subsequently, she is sent to a brothel owned by Reddy, which is run by Jyoti [Shefali Shah].
At the brothel, Lakshmi meets Swarna [Flora Saini], a tough, spunky girl, who teaches Lakshmi the tricks of the business. But Lakshmi is not ready to be enslaved. Her repeated attempts at escaping only serve to remind her of the futility of her situation -- that there is no escape and nowhere to escape to. Meanwhile, people running an NGO organize a sting operation to rescue the girls from the brothel. All they need is a witness, just one woman who will testify against Reddy in court. Lakshmi picks up the courage to do so.
Some stories need to be toldâ€¦ and the story of Lakshmi deserves a platform to reach out far and wide. Kukunoor projects a fear-provoking reality that haunts women from impoverished and underprivileged backgrounds specifically. At the same time, the film underlines the triumph of the human spirit since the protagonist, after leading a horrific life, takes up cudgels against the offenders.
Reportedly based on a true story, Kukunoor doesn't sugar-coat the episodes to make it 'audience-friendly'. There are episodes that may distress you. The brutality projected on screen is disgraceful and infuriating, while a couple of sequences are exceedingly gory and project the savagery of the tormentors. Having said that, the outcome would've tapered had Kukunoor shied away from depicting the stark realities of life.
Blemishes? Kukunoor should've abstained from incorporating songs in the narrative. Not that there are too many songs, but why veer the focus from the core issue while communicating intense realism?
LAKSHMI is embellished with remarkable performances and topping the list is Monali Thakur, whose terrifying tale petrifies the spectator no end. It shakes you completely as you get sucked into her world, a world where violence, verbal and physical abuse and the constant cry for freedom hits you like a ton of bricks. Satish Kaushik, Nagesh Kukunoor, Flora Saini, Shefali Shah, Vibha Chibber [as Amma], Gulfam and Ram Kapoor -- each and every act is tremendous.
On the whole, LAKSHMI is a heart-rending tale that ought to be told. It's a film that's sure to jolt you, take you out of your comfort zone, set you thinking about the plight of millions of kids pushed into the flesh trade. Sure, a number of images and instances in the movie are disturbing and distressing, but certain issues need to be addressed. Additionally, the message Nagesh Kukunoor conveys in LAKSHMI reverberates much after the screening has concluded.