For about a decade after Priyadarshan’s Hera Pheri in 2000, Akshay Kumar’s offhanded notion of the comedy hero was one of the biggest attractions in theatres. Mediocre films like Garam Masala, Bhool Bhulaiya and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi were carried by the manic yet casual energy of Kumar’s acting. Kumar brought a distinctly aloof, somewhat teenage indecency to the body and face of a grown man. It made sense a couple of decades ago, but to see an ageing Akshay Kumar desperately attempt to reignite that childish charm and balance it with the moral compass that is new to our cinema, is as painful as having to listen to him talk about patriotism in interviews. Hotstar’s Laxmii which until recently was called Laxmii Bomb reserves its most offensive bits for the story, acting and everything filmmaking.
Laxmii is Director Raghava Lawrence’s remake of his own Kanchana (2011) anthology, a hit Tamil franchise. The Hindi remake casts Kumar as Asif, who is at some point possessed by the transgender spirit of Laxmii. Incredibly, the film eats up half of its runtime to get to that point. Asif is married to Rashmi, played by the passable and underused Kiara Advani, who doesn’t have much to do except dance to two item songs, alongside Kumar’s lecherous body heaves.
Advani was admirable most recently in Netflix’s Guilty, but here she has to play the fiddle, which can’t even be rated second. Asif and Rashmi, accompanied by their adopted son, arrive at Rashmi’s home where they must first confront the functional cadavers of interfaith marriage, before they deal with the actual nightmare of a ghost in the house.
Laxmii’s politics are draining
Bollywood’s latest fad is to course correct its own history of ignorance. But the impetus to flood the screen with big-ticket morality is so strong, it undermines everything cinema must first do to convey some semblance of a message. Which means the obsequious nature of Laxmii’s politics is draining. It achieves neither the instinctive cheer nor a thread that we may as viewers want to tie ourselves with.
Some of the film’s moral lecturing is done with the half-heartedness of a Covid mask hanging below the chin. The interfaith marriage, for example, is thrown into the mixer for the sake of achieving only a progressive colour. There is no soul, human or otherwise to this aspect of the story, so clumsily it is scripted and enacted.
Other than the bit about being possessed, Kumar’s character is as thin and white as skimmed milk. He busts superstitions about ghosts in his free time, has adopted his brother’s son, is a great husband and might as well have a halo above his head. Other than the uniformity of Akshay’s real-world image, the writing is bizarre, especially when it concerns itself with pseudo-religious ideas.
Other than Advani and Kumar, there are a handful of good actors who try their best to rescue from this car crash a palatable body to add to their work. Both Rajesh Sharma and Manu Rishi Chadha try hard but are eventually let down by the material they have been given. Their wives, played by Ayesha Raza and Ashwini Kalsekar (Ashwini) are given ample screen time but nothing more than animated caricatures to play. Raza’s Ratna for example, drinks excessively under stress, her subsequent boldness a gimmick we are expected to laugh at.
Something to offend everyone
Such crude twists worked a decade ago and moreover require deft handling, which is clearly not the forte of the director in question. In one scene Ratna distastefully recites a spate of Urdu words while talking to a Muslim man, to which Ashwini responds impressed and wide-eyed, “Waah didi Urdu… mmmm”. In fact, by the end, Laxmii manages to offend men, women, transgenders, writers, directors and everyone in between.
After Asif is possessed by the ghost of Laxmii, he acts out, in cringe-inducing ways, that in no way critique or add nuance to our distant understanding of the transgender community. There is a tragic backstory to the ghost that Asif will naturally rectify, with some decent calisthenics thrown in towards the end, as a deceitful apology for all the depth it has jumped over. But Laxmii is so ham and cheesy it can’t keep its morality in its pants. The penultimate scene is a one-liner by Advani where she explains to us, in no unsubtle way, how transgenders are normal people.
Laxmii feels like a Rohit Shetty film. But even a Shetty film sustains the illogic and its curious inability to take itself seriously. Because Kumar now competes with the Pope instead of his acting peers he desperately tries to recreate an era that has now passed him by. If empowering the transgenders was the motif, the film could have at least restrained itself from re-serving the basest notions we are familiar with. In contrast, it has nothing other than notional myths and some horrifyingly bad acting to offer. There is no sensibility that this film does not offend, not in the least way the waning powers of the man its pits all on. The producers may have removed the word bomb from the title, but Laxmii explodes in your face, often leaving you nauseous and gasping for breath. That’s enough Diwali for me already.