Director: Raghava Lawrence
Writers: Raghava Lawrence, Farhad Samji, Tasha Bhambra, Sparsh Khetarpal
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Kiara Advani
Streaming On: Disney+ Hotstar
At the end of Laxmii, I decided that I have seen enough of Akshay Kumar's teeth for one lifetime. Here he plays Asif, a Muslim married to a Hindu, who, for reasons too convoluted to explain, becomes possessed by the spirit of a transwoman Laxmii. When he is under her spell, Asif ferociously clicks his teeth and even lets out a sort of war cry. We get so many close-ups that I started admiring how clean Akshay's teeth are.
As I watched, I also wondered, how many communities will Akshay save? In Airlift, he saved Indian migrants in the Middle East; In Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, he saved women from the humiliation of defecating outdoors; in Padman, he once again came to the rescue, playing a man who creates low-cost sanitary napkins; in Kesari, as Havaldar Ishar Singh, he rescues a fort and Sikh honor; and now as Laxmii, he bats for transgenders and also throws in a few strokes for Muslims and a child with special needs. It's a heavy load. Which might be why his performance feels delivered in auto-pilot mode.
Laxmii is the remake of a Tamil film called Kanchana, written and directed by Raghava Lawrence, who also played the lead in that film. In Kanchana, his character, also called Raghava, isn't heroic. He's a cowardly man, so afraid of ghosts that he sleeps next to his mother and even insists that she accompany him to the bathroom. Some of the pleasure in that film was watching this wimp transform into the avenging angel Kanchana. Raghava has directed Laxmii but perhaps him and co-writers Farhad Samji, Sparsh Khetarpal and Tasha Bhambra who did the adaptation and dialogue, didn't want to risk downsizing their star. So Asif is some sort of ghostbuster. From his first scene itself, he is in savior mode, rescuing people from fraud babas.
Kanchana was made in 2011. It's loud, simplistic and problematic in terms of representation. But Raghava created moments of cheesy fun and it was satisfying to see Kanchana ultimately get her revenge. The high pitch and stereotyping has not aged well and so much has been lost in translation. The tweaks to the original have only made this version worse – the interfaith marriage angle is laughably lame. Kiara Advani plays Asif's wife Rashmi. She does little except calisthenic dancing at the Burj Khalifa and widening her eyes as her husband behaves erratically. Rashmi's family disowned her when she ran away with Asif. They are offended that he is Muslim but not one person seems to notice the difference in age.
The writing is awful. The message of inclusion is noble but also obviously fraudulent because the film itself contradicts it. There is so much shrieking that it might induce a headache and perhaps the worst sin – the ghost, before it enters Asif's body, is basically a wig with a fan behind it.
Were we really expected to be afraid of flying hair?
You can see Laxmii on Disney + Hotstar.