Disclaimer: The following post contains spoilers from the film Laxmii.
Recently, Akshay-Kumar starrer horror-comedy Laxmii released on Disney+Hotstar. While the film was touted as a story advocating for equal rights of the transgender community, it ended up further feeding the paranoia about the community, while also being sexist and regressive.
A film that completely let down its stellar supporting cast and wasted a story with immense potential, Laxmii is a film even the 90s would disown. Here's everything that the film got wrong:
1. Downplaying an issue of domestic violence as a mere prop.
The film begins with a fake baba trying to rid a woman of an evil spirit. That's when Aasif (Akshay Kumar) steps in to educate people about not falling for superstitions. However, the woman in question appears to be a victim of domestic violence, who is more grateful to Aasif for 'saving her marriage' but not for saving her.
There were countless examples the film could have used to make a case against superstitions. But, the creators instead chose to downplay an issue like domestic violence, using it as a mere prop.
2. Showcasing a regressive approach where men turn saviors for women, rather than men teaching other men about equality.
When Aasif turns up to call out baba for his fake act, he names himself as the abused woman's 'brother' and uses that to warn her husband to not hit her again. It's the same ideology Simmba employed, where a woman is only safe as long as she has her 'brothers' looking after her.
Can we stop promoting regressive beliefs that paint women as the 'weaker sex', forever in need of protection? Anyway, protecting and respecting only the women you're related to is not gender equality. And Just FYI, all this happens within the first 15 minutes of the film!
3. Promoting dated, sexist phrases that feed the idea of toxic masculinity.
Aasif's favourite dialogue to showcase his disbelief in ghosts and spirits is a reminder of toxic masculinity we could do well without in 2020.
Yes, as the film progresses, it's obvious that his dialogues were so scripted so as to tie-in to the fact that Aasif gets possessed by the spirit of a transgender woman. But, is attacking feminity and aiding toxic masculinity the only way to showcase this?
That's not just lazy writing, but also highly problematic. And it's high time we stop gendering clothes and accessories!
4. Showcasing gender-neutral activities as 'scary instances', because a man was performing those activities.
Aasif, possessed by Laxmii's spirit, starts applying haldi on himself. Firstly, his wife and in-laws sneak peek at him doing so in the bathroom, which is a gross invasion of privacy that proved far too difficult to sit through without wincing.
Secondly, the entire family is horrified by this and showcase their horror in a comical manner unique to cringe comedies.
How is the simple act of a man applying haldi construed as a scary incident? What exactly is so horrifying about it? Even if this was a sudden change, it's for sure not something to be scared about.
At a time when social media influencers and celebrities are working to debunk the notion that using make-up is a gender-specific activity, Laxmii goes out of its way to vilify something as ordinary as applying haldi.
5. Miscasting that greatly lets down the story.
Despite Sharad Kelkar doing complete justice to his role of the transgender woman Laxmii, the question still remains, why was a transgender actor not cast in this role?
To be honest, after seeing Kelkar's performance in the film, a very obvious afterthought was, that why was he not given the chance to lead the story, with a transgender actor playing his role in the film.
Similarly, Ayesha Raza is a brilliant actor but why was a woman ten-years younger than Akshay Kumar cast as his mother-in-law?
The film may have cast a star, but unfortunately, he does nothing for the film. He definitely does not save it from its lack of a logical story.
6. Supporting flawed, regressive, outdated beliefs about the transgender community.
At one time in the film, the antagonist remarks that he never would have bought the land that belonged to a transgender, because stealing land from a transgender is equal to incurring their curse. And no one, not even Laxmii, questions this ideology.
Sadly, it just further alienates the transgender community by painting them as people to be 'scared of', lest they 'curse you'. It's the kind of flawed, superstitious logic that seeps into people's mentality and makes it difficult for the transgender community to assimilate into society.
And the film further plays on this by having Aasif repeat a gesture infamously linked to a transgender villain - Ashutosh Rana's role in Sangharsh.
Taking into account Bollywood's long history of misrepresenting the transgender community, Laxmii was a clear opportunity to shed light on their side of the story. However, the film ended up further demonizing them, leaving the audience with the outdated conclusion that a transgender woman is only as powerful as her ability to attack and instill fear.
All images are screenshots from Disney+Hotsar.