lakshmi Plot
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Cast: Monali Thakur, Shifali Shah, Ram Kapoor, Nagesh Kukunoor, Satish Kaushik, Flora Saini, Vibha Chibber, Gulfam Khan

Writer/Director: Nagesh Kukunoor

Producer/s: Jayantilal Gada, Satish Kaushik, Elahe Hiptoola, Nagesh Kukunoor

Plot: Lakshmi is a true story of heroism and untold courage.

Lakshmi is a beautiful 13 year old girl whose life takes a tragic turn. Snatched away from the security and love of her family, Lakshmi is thrown into a life of trauma and terror, a violent nightmare for any woman. And Lakshmi is just a child.

Lakshmi is kidnapped and separated from her father and sisters, and sold to the Reddy brothers, the dangerous front men for a nexus in human trafficking. Being a child, she is separated from the other girls and taken to the elder Reddy’s house, where she is lulled into a false sense of security, and then violently raped by Reddy. Then she is sent to a brothel owned by the brothers.

At the brothel Lakshmi meets Swarna, a pragmatic, tough, spunky girl and Jyoti, the “tough love” madam who runs the brothel for the Reddy brothers. Swarna and Jyoti attuned to the realities of the brothel and having been institutionalized teach Lakshmi the ropes. As Lakshmi’s roommate, she helps her cope with the degradation of being of a prostitute. But Lakshmi is not ready to be enslaved. She refuses to make peace with the horror of her fate. But 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!. Dejected, she accepts her fate.

Lakshmi makes the brothel her home. The child Lakshmi fades away, lost in the hustle-bustle of the flesh market. She turns to alcohol, and the other girls for support, to endure the burden of her life.

Finally, there comes a ray of hope with Uma- a social worker who periodically brings relief to the girls in form sweets, necessities, medication, sympathy and love. She tells Lakshmi she has found her family. Her hopes rekindled, Lakshmi decides to escape again. But this time she is caught by the younger and far more ruthless Reddy brother. He beats Lakshmi senseless and shows no mercy. He puts her back to work immediately and as punishment for her transgressions “ups” the customer quota. Lakshmi’s health fails but Reddy doesn’t relent.

One such ‘customer’ is Mohan. As part of an NGO against women trafficking and working with Uma, Mohan organizes a sting operation to rescue the girls. All they need is a witness, just one woman who will speak against the Reddy brothers in the court – they don’t find one!

Against all odds, the terrorized, degraded and broken child-woman shows courage where everybody else fails. Resisting all pressure: violent threats, coercion and bribes, she stands up in court and in a historic landmark case, succeeds in putting the Reddy brothers as well as everyone involved in the nexus – all the way to the top – behind bars.

Lakshmi is the story of a frightening reality that haunts women from deprived backgrounds. But it is also the true story of a child whose spirit could not be broken. A hero in a land filled with cowards, whose courage and determination finally triumphs over evil.

lakshmi Review
Lakshmi Movie Poster
Lakshmi Movie Poster

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars (Three and half stars)

Star cast: Monali Thakur, Shefali Shah, Ram Kapoor, Nagesh Kukunoor, Satish Kaushik

Director: Nagesh Kukunoor

What’s Good: The film portrays unadulterated reality which needs to be faced.

What’s Bad: Infusion of the contrived commercial essence dilutes the film’s matter in the second half mildly.

Loo break: None

Watch or Not?: Nagesh Kukunoor has mustered up the guts to make a film that will shock you to the extent of feeling repulsed by it. And still it is a story that is so deeply rooted in facts and tackled with a coarse realism that it must be heard. Lakshmi is a film that will have you on the edge of your seats, unsettling you with its disturbing subject matter, pushing you to run out of the film and yet the story is so powerful that it will adhere you to it. There are no two ways about the fact that it is a must watch film and Kukunoor has toppled all his previous works by making a film which is yet abhorrent and yet every bit courageous.

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Lakshmi (Monali Thakur) is sold off into prostitution by her father. Acquired by her pimp Chinna (Nagesh Kukunoor) and his brother Reddy Garoo (Satish Kaushik), the girl is faced with living as a sex worker at a brothel. After two failed attempts to escape from the hell and a near fatal experience, the girl is rescued by a local NGO. She then decides to retaliate by filing a case against Reddy and Chinna.

The film is an honest and appalling story of her journey to emerge victorious against all odds and set a legal example in Andhra Pradesh.

Monali Thakur in a still from movie 'Lakshmi'
Monali Thakur in a still from movie ‘Lakshmi’

Lakshmi Review: Script Analysis

Based on the true life story, the film’s script has probably been kept close to the facts surrounding it. A 13 year old is kidnapped and sold into prostitution. Smoothly socialized and trained into the art of selling herself every night, Lakshmi‘s spirit doesn’t suffer a beating despite drowning regularly in bottles of rum and living in haze of cigarette smoke. The transition of the innocent girl converting into a woman who must survive to satiate the lust of many men is spellbindingly done.

There are too many points in the film where the story seems to lose steam mainly in the second half. A lot of it coming off as unwarranted or unvalidated. But none of it matters when Kukunoor manages to enthuse a spirited narrative from a story that is heartbreakingly true and still not an isolated incident even today. Why Reddy Garoo’s helping hand decides to help Lakshmi in her case against her pimps and why his personal physician testifies in court against him are confusing loopholes, but we are so busy feeling a part of Lakshmi‘s success that these points are inevitably forgotten.

The story takes a while to fall in place with its initial hold being merely portraying the trauma of the protagonist. But when it gathers steam, it is nearly undefeated. Tertiary characters are etched with acute detailing. Lakshmi‘s caring roommate who protects her and still teaches her the art of seduction or her caring boss who slaps her and cares for her with equal ease too manage to make a mark in course of narrative. They aren’t just their to support the lead but have the dilemmas of their own life.

And in the end, the script wins for being able to evolve Lakshmi into an awe-striking character from the timid 14 year old. When she files a case against her offenders, she has the raw brutality in her wrath which manages to not allow her to lose focus on getting them convicted even when everything else goes against her. It is perhaps that audacious heroism that formed the crux of the film’s theme and what it attempts to preach.

Lakshmi Review: Star Performances

Monali Thakur isn’t an actress surely but she does a brilliant job in the film. Her natural innocence and childlike beauty is trapped wonderfully and comes handy in gaining an immediate sympathy factor of the audiences. You’ll want to jump into the film and drag her out from the grotesqueness she is imprisoned in and it is her charm that will make you feel helpless for her.

Shefali Shah is an actress whose caliber cannot be put to words. She is simply terrific. She is so supremely versatile even in the film that you don’t even realize when she shifts from being a caring mother to a lewd sex worker. In a particular scene the pimp ties her down and tries to burn her and her expressions of pain and horror are simply unmatchable.

Nagesh Kukunoor has always made a mark as a filmmaker but in this film he shows his flair for acting. Let’s just settle with the line that you’ll loathe him and he will make you want to throw up, filling you with disgust. It is quite commendable that he succeeds in what was expected of him.

Ram Kapoor in a small role manages to hold on graciously. His confidence as the lawyer who has to take on vicious sex mafias and fight a case solely on the basis of a 14 year old’s testimony is done well. There is a scene where he tells Lakshmi that he is very scared and she tells him even she is equally scared and they both giggle about it is one of the film’s most innocent moments. I doubt anyone except Kapoor could have brought in the nervousness and the humor with that much ease.

Lakshmi Review: Direction, Editing and Screenplay

Nagesh Kukunoor is afterall the one who walks in with maximum accolades for being able to show the valor in making a film which is absolutely unlike him. Usually known for the tenderness of delicate stories like Dor and Iqbal, he shows his true tenacity with Lakshmi. Toppling himself into an unsurpassable league he has conjured up the courage to make something so gutsy and marvelous that will get you so disturbed and yet you can’t back out from hearing what he has to tell.

Lakshmi Review: The Last Word

Lakshmi is in one word a heroic film. Not only for the story that Kukunoor has decided to tell but also the crude manner in which he tells us that makes a far reaching impact. This is a film that will penetrate into your psyche and horrify you to wits for being a vehemently powerful and intense story. I am going with a 3.5/5. More of such heart in your mouth stories are needed to bring about changes.

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Lakshmi releases on 21st March, 2014.

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Reviewed by
Mohar Basu
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