You don't often get to see a film of such horrifying brilliance that wrenches at your gut and leaves you speechless. Nagesh Kukunoor scales a new peak with LAKSHMI, a film on human trafficking. At the outset, he tells us that this is a story fitted together with parts of many such stories of a similar nature. What he unfolds on screen is sure to scare you, and this here is not a horror film; Kukunoor exposes the horror of real life!
Before I go any further, I would like to state that this film is not for the faint-hearted. Yet, I would urge every adult to watch this film, because if you haven't seen LAKSHMI, you are trying to run away from the harsh reality of life.
Years ago as a kid, I was witness to watching a few elderly ladies who were viewing a film on television. When the villain got nasty, they started praying loudly, seeking divine intervention for the plight of the hapless victim. It was funny, because as a kid, even I knew it was a movie and there would be a happy ending. So when these old ladies were losing their 'balance' I was thoroughly amused.
To tell you the truth, I felt the same way whilst watching LAKSHMI. I was unconsciously praying for Lakshmi and her fight against a mighty system; that she would triumph; that somewhere during her ordeal, the scene would not turn out to be the way it was going out to be; that she would be spared the trauma of entertaining another customer. CHECK OUT: Lakshmi - Songs Lyrics
And Lakshmi is just 14 years old. That is even more frightening. Her wide, innocent eyes plead for mercy; instead she receives the filth of the world from animals that masquerade as men and women.
Her journey starts when she is picked up from her happy atmosphere at home where she looks after her two little sisters and an alcoholic father. She is sold into the flesh trade and brought to Hyderabad where the Reddy brothers run their business. Since she is the youngest of the lot, she is separated from the group of six and sent to the older Reddy's house (Satish Kaushik).
There she is lulled into a false sense of security, until one day, her innocence is snatched away from her in a most brutal manner. Soon, Chinna (Nagesh Kukunoor) is summoned and Lakshmi is initiated into the flesh trade through their 'Hostel'. She makes repeated attempts to escape, but is physically scarred. Her resolve stays firm.
She sees a window of hope when she and the other girls are rescued by a social worker. But to put the Reddy brothers in the dock, and clean the system from the top, they will have to testify. One by one, they all go back to the 'Hostel' because making baskets is not getting them much money. Only Lakshmi is left. Will she testify? Will she take on the inhumanity heaped on her in the courtroom to ensure the monsters get what they deserve?
Yes, she does. Even though she is raped again in the courtroom by the defense lawyer... verbally, time and again...
Monali Thakur as Lakshmi gives a powerful performance. With her wide eyes and body language, she transfers her plight and fright onto you as a viewer. She takes you through her ordeal. Her performance is very real. It scares you.
So does the performance of the other actors.
Let's begin with Satish Kaushik. You don't know if he is good or evil; he flits through these characters without emotion. And that is what is very scary. One moment he is this caring elder, and the next he is this filthy animal. Scary, very scary!
Nagesh Kukunoor as Chinna the pimp is frightening. The way he runs his brother's business in a clinical manner and the way he never shies from using his foul mouth and hands are scary, very scary!
Shefali Shah as the 'Madam' in charge of the 'hostel' gives off her best performance to date. You wonder how a woman can be so insensitive to a child. But that is the stark reality of this business. Scary, very scary!
The plight of the other girls and the peace they have made with their situation is another scary aspect. Ditto the way the customers who come in, some of who want 14-year-olds. Imagine, they are 60-year-old married men with families and perhaps, daughters of the same age they are violating. Scary, very scary.
Nagesh Kukunoor has done a wonderful service to society by walking us through [through cinema] a harsh reality of life which most of us would be content turning the other way. That is what cinema is all about; using the medium to create awareness about issues which most would be happy not talking about.
Incidentally, at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, celebrated photographer Sudharak Olwe's exhibition on the plight of commercial sex workers titled '11th lane Kamathipura'
is also on till March 26. Footnote: On March 17 this year, the Vatican, the Anglican Communion and a leading Muslim institution signed a historic agreement to work together to end human trafficking worldwide by 2020.
The new accord, signed during a Vatican news conference, launched the beginning of the Global Freedom Network, which hopes to expand to include all the world's major faiths.
The global initiative aims to prevent modern forms of slavery; to protect, rescue and rehabilitate victims; and to promote concrete measures that condemn or criminalize human trafficking.
In a joint statement, the accord's signatories called human trafficking and modern forms of slavery ''crimes against humanity'' and called for urgent action by all faith communities to join the effort to ''set free the most oppressed of our brothers and sisters.''