<Review by: Meera Joshi>
Directed by Nagesh Kukunoor. Starring Monali Thakur, Satish Kaushik, Nagesh Kukunoor, Shefali Shah, Fllora Saini, Vibha Chhibber, Ram Kapoor
The film has many moments. A few that traumatise you too. And it holds your attention throughout.
Lakshmi deals with human trafficking and child prostitution. So what’s new? The fact that writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor has told a simple story in a heart-wrenching manner. Lakshmi (Monali Thakur) is wise beyond her 14 years, she understands what’s going on and after attempts to save herself fail, succumbs to her fate. For a while.
The Reddy brothers, Reddy gaaru (Satish Kaushik) and Chinna (Nagesh Kukunoor) run a prostitution racket. Jyothi (Shefali Shah) is in charge of the brothel but can’t come to terms with a 14-year-old being brought into the racket. She helps an NGO do a sting operation, which finally puts Reddy gaaru behind bars.
Based on several true stories, Lakshmi depicts reality. The grim truth of a prostitute’s life is told in one sentence — After working here, where can you go? Your family won’t accept you. No one wants you. Even when the women are rescued after a sting operation, all of them return to continue with their sordid lives. As Swarna (Fllora Saini), fed up of weaving baskets in women’s welfare home says, “This is all I know. Men may want me for another 5 or 10 years. After that we’ll see.”
But Lakshmi is made of sterner stuff. With the help of the NGO she takes on the Reddy brothers. A case is filed against them. Every witness is bought out or threatened. When it appears that Reddy gaaru will roam free yet again, Lakshmi gutsily agrees to show the sting operation footage in court. And the conviction happens. A first in Andhra Pradesh we are told at the end of the film. Some 90 odd convictions of this kind have since taken place in the state.
The director knows he’s addressing an intelligent audience and doesn’t go into long-winded explanations about what’s happening on the screen. You have a shot of Amma (Reddy gaaru’s housekeeper played by Vibha Chhibber) telling Lakshmi she can help her. Cut to the doctor treating Reddy gaaru in the witness box. Or Jyothi entering the room Chinna is sleeping in followed by the shot of both of them bleeding.
The casting is perfect. Monali Thakur as Lakshmi is undoubtedly the soul of the film. Nagesh Kukunoor as Chinna makes you want to hit him with the nailed end of his stick he’d earlier used on Lakshmi and Jyothi, while Shefali Shah as Jyothi makes you empathise with her as she yearns to see her daughter become an engineer and helps in the sting operation when she can’t bear to see a child being repeatedly molested.
The sweetest moment in the film is when Avinash the lawyer (Ram Kapoor) holds the compact for Lakshmi to put on her make-up before she faces the TV cameras waiting to capture her triumph in court.
Though the film is technically sound, the songs fail to register when they play in the background. Yes, you read such stories in the papers every day and see them on news channels. Yet, the film is definitely worth a watch. It will stir you up, make you think and want to help.
<Meera Joshi is a carefree freelancer who recently rounded off her 35-year career in journalism as Managing Editor of Filmfare Magazine. She’s interviewed all the big stars including Amitabh Bachchan and we’re privileged to have her writing for Minority-Review>