(Raghava Lawrence, 2020)
I honestly don’t know where to begin.
The nicest thing I can say about Laxmii is that it has good intentions. Unfortunately, having good intentions means nothing when the vehicle for those intentions is a hot, ridiculous mess of contradictions and nonsense.
The story revolves around Asif (Akshay Kumar) – apparently a marble and granite salesman, though we NEVER see him doing that – who spends his spare time as a kind of professional skeptic, going around proving that ghosts and spirits aren’t real. He’s married to Rashmi (Kiara Advani) who has been estranged from her family for the past three years – ever since she eloped with Asif – because her father disapproved of his Hindu daughter marrying a Muslim.
Well, Grumpy Dad needs to get over that quick smart because his (apparently alcoholic?) wife invites Rashmi, Asif, and their nephew to visit as a kind of ambush wedding anniversary present her husband is guaranteed not to love. When Asif and Rashmi arrive, aside from the predictable family melodrama, they discover that their in-laws are being plagued by nightmares, and spooky happenings and the local kids are frightened of an empty, abandoned plot of land nearby. They tell Asif they won’t play there, because it’s haunted, which is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
NONSENSE! Asif the professional skeptic cries, forcing all the children to follow him into the haunted barrens, forcing a cricket stake into the dry ground AND UNWITTINGLY DIRECTLY INTO A DEAD BODY. Haunted? Never.
The bloody cricket stake will come to play a RIDICULOUSLY convoluted part, like something out of Final Destination, in getting the crux of the film going. I’m just going to lay it out for you.
Asif washes the blood off the cricket stumps, so it falls directly into a lemongrass plant growing outside. He then uses the lemongrass to make a cup of tea. HE DRINKS THE TEA AND GETS POSSESSED BY THE VENGEFUL SPIRIT LAXMII, a woman who is out to kill a bunch of people who wronged her. From here on in, things get….weird. And violent. And quite dark, in some places.
Laxmii is a Hindi language remake of the 2011 Tamil film Kanchana – also written and directed by Raghava Lawrence. Though Kanchana received mixed reviews from critics, it was a commercial success. I guess that’s what led to the powers that be deciding to remake it for the Hindi market. You’d think having the same writer/director at the helm would be a pretty good guarantee of the film’s quality.
First issue: Laxmii apparently sets out to be a comedy-horror. In actuality, it’s only kind of unintentionally funny in places and not especially scary.
Exhibit A: When Laxmii is not possessing Asif, the “ghost” is….this….talking wig…thing.
When the film remembers that it advertised itself as a horror film, it kind of throws everything at the wall and hopes something will stick, regardless of whether it has ANYTHING to do with ANYTHING. I kind of love the chaotic energy of shit like this random clown just turning up:
Or the cheerful song at the beginning which has my ABSOLUTE favourite thing: Akki flying in a chariot made of bones for absolutely no apparent reason.
Ultimately, genre-wise, it fails as a comedy-horror because it’s ALL OVER THE PLACE.
As a social justice issues film… now here’s where it gets interesting. Here’s where Laxmii definitely has the good intentions but lacks the execution to pull it off. The thing is, I referred to the spirit that possesses Asif above as a woman, as, at that point in the film, we see a man being taken over by a feminine force and adopting feminine-coded behaviours. TWIST. We later find out that Laxmii, the vengeful spirit that is possessing Asif is transgender (or hijra in Indian culture, regarded as third gender – hijra as a term encompasses transgender, eunechs and intersex), assigned male at birth but more comfortable living as a woman.
Bollywood isn’t exactly known for being especially progressive, but the transgender plot arc in Laxmii is one that is aiming for acceptance, kindness, tolerance and love.
Like I said, good intentions. There’s definitely the IDEA you’re supposed to get that acceptance is key. Transgender people are people just like anyone else. We all have the same emotions, etc etc.
The problem is, for all the GOOD the film does, e.g. hey let’s show transgender people as (relatively) normal (if a little murderous) and preach acceptance and love and kindness, it IMMEDIATELY undoes it by spouting BIZARRE “lore” about transgender people’s weird supernatural powers and then has them all gather (THE OTHER) in a creepy supernatural rave under the full moon for nefarious purposes.
I mean, I did the research. In ancient times, apparently hijra were actually revered and respected, holding positions of religious authority and important positions in society. It was the British (yes, colonialism, ruining everything, as usual) that criminalised and stigmatised hijra.
Some positives for me: Akshay Kumar being possessed by a feminine spirit (basically, Akki in a sari) wasn’t ever played for cheap laughs (the way man in a dress is usually played). I actually thought Akki did a good job of conveying a fierce, vengeful woman.
The big song from the film Bam Bhole (the context in the film is it’s a full moon and “all the transgenders are gathering to dance on the beach, which as I said, is A PROBLEM) is a pretty good depiction of “man in sari” as being fierce and feminine without it being comic relief or something to mock.
Shaarad Kelkar, who plays Laxmii before she’s a ghost, is AMAZING. Not enough of him in the film. Also good to see plenty of casting of actual hijra in the film. But seriously, Shaarad Kelkar = VERY VERY GOOD.
I love Akshay Kumar, and I love that even in films like this one that have a terrible script and are all over the place, he puts in 1000% to make what he can of a pig’s ear into some semblance of a silk purse. He does a great job, in my opinion, holding it together. But ultimately Laxmii is not the game changer anyone wanted it to be.