Akshay Kumar Says Laxmmi Bomb Handles Transgender Acceptability Sensitively. We’re Not So Sure, Though
With the Indian movie industry suffering tremendously during the lockdown, the release of an Akshay Kumar film could really give it that much needed upliftment. Love him or hate him, the actor is the most bankable star in Bollywood. And an out-and-out entertainer headlined by him is probably just what the doctor ordered to revive the BO. And sure enough, when the highly anticipated trailer of Laxmmi Bomb dropped, Akki fans were super gung-ho about this one. But a sizeable chunk of the audience (including yours truly) wasn’t too sure about it. The very typical humour and ‘Burj Khalifa’ aside, there’s the question of having a cis male actor portray a transgender character, and the sensitivity of the portrayal that has raised some concerns.
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In a recent interview with Maniesh Paul, Akshay Kumar spoke about what went into his portrayal of a transgender character in Laxmmi Bomb. And it looks like he’s emerged out of the experience with a newfound respect for women who wear sarees.
“In one word, saree is the most graceful outfit in the world. Wearing a saree has been one of a kind experience for me. Frankly speaking, donning a saree is very difficult. During the initial days of the shoot, my saree would often unwrap by itself while shooting. I wasn’t able to move properly while being in a saree, forget about dancing and fighting in it. Thanks to my costume designer who would come to my rescue in every break to rearrange the plaits and balance the pallu. Hats off to all the women who manage so well. If you all want to appreciate the process, everybody should try it once on yourself, you will realise how difficult it is.”
Also Read: 5 Thoughts I Had While Watching Laxmmi Bomb Trailer. Mainly Ki, Akshay Kumar’s Trans Act Feels Caricaturish, No?
Akshay Kumar said that a huge credit for how the character has been portrayed goes to Laxmmi Bomb director Raghava Lawrence, who’s cues Akshay has followed to the T. In fact, he goes on to say that this is one of the most mentally intensive roles that he has done, and the experience has been quite a revelation.
““It’s been 30 years of my career, the character of Laxmmi remains the most mentally intensive role. But I managed it somehow. I thank my director Raghava Lawrence – how this character walks, talks, dances – he told he all about it. I have imitated him. If this film performs, it will be because of him.”
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The Tamil film Kanchana, which has inspired Laxmmi Bomb, was also directed by Raghava Lawrence. And while that was a huge hit with the masses, it remains to be seen how the latter does, with its digital release on Disney+Hotstar. The film’s title, Akshay revealed also has a connection with its source material.
“Our Tamil film was named after the main lead character Kanchana. Kanchana means ‘gold’ which is a form of Lakshmi. Earlier I considered going the same way for the Hindi remake but we collectively decided that the name must appeal to the Hindi audience as well and what better than Laxmmi. By god’s grace, it was turning out to be a cracker of a film, so we named it Laxmmi Bomb. Like a dhamaka of Laxmmi Bomb cannot be missed, the transgender lead character is powerful and radiant. Hence the name fits perfectly,” said Akshay
One of the chief concerns with the film is Akshay Kumar’s portrayal of a trans woman when he gets possessed by a ghost of one. However, Akki assures that it has been handled quite sensitively.
“While making PadMan, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, I came across facts and figures which were shocking. Similarly, in the case of transgenders, there is an issue of acceptability. And I feel that that has been handled very wisely and sensitively in Laxmmi Bomb by the makers.”
In the Laxmmi Bomb trailer, while we see him donning a saree, indulging in beauty rituals, walking and talking like a woman , and of course, the Sangharsh-adjacent scream in the end, we don’t see the deeper nuances that the actor claims are part of his portrayal. If anything, they seem a lot more frivolous. There are many who believe that a transgender character headlining a mainstream movie is a good thing, of course, but to make it feel so caricaturish might actually have the reverse effect.
That being said, the film has received a fair bit of support from the trans community. In fact, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, trans activist who has represented Asia-Pacific at the UN, and gained popularity by appearing on Bigg Boss, has also endorsed the film’s trailer. She even joined Akshay Kumar and Kiara Advani during their promotional appearance on The Kapil Sharma Show.
This might allay some of the doubts, at least until we see the entire movie for ourselves. But here’s the thing. How many times have we given the benefit of doubt to mainstream movies when it comes to queer portrayal and then been disappointed? Akshay Kumar is a bankable star but not so much when it comes to being sensitive on such subjects. Most of his recent movies have dealt with social issues, but they’ve all been of a slightly serious tone when you compare it to Laxmmi Bomb. Again, I get it, you cannot lay all your cards on the table with your trailer. But i feel like if the makers really did want to lead with the impression of sensitivity and acceptability, maybe edit a better trailer that reflects that? Currently, it looks like the usual slapstick humour, exotic locations and a mere sprinkling of the trans portrayal in the trailer.
I haven’t completely dismissed the film just yet, because as a creator myself, I know how much that hurts when people dismiss your hard work without looking at the whole thing in context. So I am going to eagerly wait for Laxmmi Bomb to release on November 9, 2020, and extinguish all my doubts, just as Akshay Kumar promised. But Bollywood really needs to sort out its priorities and lead with the right message that it claims it wants to send out.