Too scary for comfort

Will Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb make a difference in Bollywood’s depiction of the transgender community on-screen?

If there’s one actor in Bollywood who is known for being politically correct – in both reel and real life – it’s Akshay Kumar. But 2020 is known for its unpredictability and thus a trailer of his upcoming film created quite a stir, but not in a good way.

From the day the first look of Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb dropped in social media, netizens could’t keep calm. Why? Because he was seen in an avatar like never before – donning a saree, tika, churis and so on. This made it clear that Kumar is depicting the role of a transgender person in his upcoming.

But when the trailer released, it received mixed reactions – some appreciated it, others ridiculed it and some even demanded a boycott! Appreciation came mostly from the film fraternity. Celebrities like Aamir Khan,Taapsee Pannu, Bhumi Pednekar, Karan Johar, Kriti Sanon, Kriti Kharbanda, Sidharth Malhotra, Varun Dhawan, among many, lauded the trailer. Well-known transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi also was all praises after watching the trailer.

And now, keeping aside the boycott part (because it is demanded owing to baseless reasons by Twitterati  — like how goddess Laxmi has been apparently ridiculed in the film and so on), let us discuss the criticisms it faces and why. There is no doubt in it that it is the first time a mainstream hero will be seen playing a transgender on-screen. But is this reason enough to celebrate?

Laxmmi Bomb is the remake of the 2011 Tamil horror-comedy Kanchana. Starring Akshay Kumar and Kiara Advani in pivotal roles, the film has been directed by Raghava Lawrence – who himself was associated with its Tamil counterpart. Ahead of its release on Hotstar on November 9, its trailer is already the talk of the town.

Laxmmi Bomb is the first film which has a Bollywood mainstream hero depicting a trangender character on-screen                                                                     Credit: IMDB

As shown in the trailer, Kumar plays a ‘macho’ fearless man who doesn’t believe in ghosts, until he comes across one, or rather, until he is possessed by one – that too of a transgender person. But as the story suggests, the spirit seeks revenge. Thus naturally the scenes where Kumar is seen as a transgender are made to look scary.

Though it is too early to comment whether the depiction is on the right note or not, but still certain scenes in the trailer made the viewers cringe. Even if it shows possession, what is the need to make a transgender person look so horrifying? Nevertheless, only after the film releases – one can get a clear picture!

This mistrust probably stems from the fact that Bollywood has wrongly depicted the transgender community before, many a time. Let us take for instance Mahesh Bhatt’s Sadak (1991). There, late actor Sadashiv Amrapurkar essayed the role of Maharani – a transgender person who runs a brothel. The character was shown in a negative light, and someone who is outright evil.

Then there’s Sangharsh (1999), where actor Ashutosh Rana grabbed the limelight for his depiction of a transgender. Rana played the character of Lajja Shankar Pandey, a religious fanatic who sacrifices young children for his own beliefs. This character became an iconic villain in the 1990s, and till date is remembered for a spine-chilling depiction.

These are just two of many such instances when a transgender was shown as “scary” and “evil”. They were often used to add on to the element of horror in the film. And that was two decades ago but in 2020, can society’s sensibilities still be the same?

If not Bollywood, there are several films which did bring justice to the community. The biggest example is the Tamil film Super Deluxe where actor Vijay Sethupathi depicts the role of a transwoman. The sensitivity with which the character is dealt with on-screen has been lauded by critics and audiences alike.

Similarly several works by filmmakers Rituparno Ghosh (late), Onir, Sridhar Rangayan, among many, are known for doing justice to the community. But the sad truth is that all these (above mentioned filmmakers) themselves belong to the LGBTQ community. Does this imply that only those who are queer can do justice to queer stories on-screen?

Moreover, some even point to the fact that Bollywood has no prominent transgender actor. Had there been any, then Kumar would not have probably got this once-in -a-lifetime opportunity. But whether he is able to do justice to the community or not, that only time will tell.

(Cover: Poster of the film Laxmmi Bomb // Credit: IMDB)


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