Tag Archives: Vibhawari Deshpande

Movie Review: Tikli and Laxmi Bomb (2017)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the book Tikli and Laxmi Bomb: To Hell with Patriarchy at Amazon

Tikli and Laxmi Bomb plays at the UK Asian Film Festival on March 21 and 22, 2018.

Two women spark a revolution among sex workers in Mumbai in Tikli and Laxmi Bomb, a wonderful indie film currently doing the festival rounds. The story imparts a tremendous amount of information about the dangers faced by sex workers in an organic and thoughtful way, via endearing lead characters.

The title refers to two types of firecrackers popular in India: one with a short fuse (“Tikli”) and another that burns slower but makes a louder bang (“Laxmi Bomb”). The nicknames are perfect for the main duo. Laxmi (Vibhawari Deshpande) is a long-time sex worker, tasked by her pimp Mhatre (Upendra Limaye) with showing the ropes to the new girl in town, Putul (Chitrangada Chakraborty). Putul earns the nickname “Tikli” after she stabs an aggressive customer.

Laxmi can’t understand why Tikli won’t accept the way things are. Police hassle the women despite Mhatre’s bribes. Their supposed bodyguard A.T. (Mayur More) ignores their phone calls for help. Mhatre takes just enough of the women’s earnings to ensure that they aren’t destitute but can never rise above their current economic situation. World-weary Laxmi has learned to protect herself the best she can within the present constraints.

That acceptance doesn’t suit Tikli. She proposes breaking off from Mhatre and forming their own gang made up of women who will look out for each other instead of suffering abuse at the hands of those claiming to protect them. Laxmi resists until she discovers the extent to which Mhatre and his gang will go to keep the women subjugated. She, Tikli, and a handful of other sex workers set out on their own to change their fates.

As employees in an illegal profession, the women in Tikli and Laxmi Bomb are vulnerable to myriad forms of abuse. The film exposes its audience to many of them in a way that feels narratively consistent, without resorting to the lectures that ruin the flow of many socially conscious mainstream Hindi films. Each new setback the women face on their path to autonomy feels inevitable in retrospect, given the corruption and brutality built into the system.

It is to writer-director Aditya Kripalani’s credit that much of the violence against the female characters occurs off-camera. In the film, rape is used by men as a warning against insubordination and is thus carried out in front of other women. Their horrified reactions show us all we need to see.

Kripalani shares the credit for his enlightened directorial choices with his crew. Tikli and Laxmi Bomb‘s cinematographer, editor, and line producer are all women, as are the heads of costuming, makeup, and other key departments. Co-producer Sweta Chhabria says this deliberately chosen crew “helped the director and the film to lose its male gaze.”

Then there’s the talented cast. The two leads play off one another beautifully, Chakraborty’s impudent Tikli tempered by Deshpande’s pragmatic Laxmi. Divya Unny and Kritika Pande are great as two of the founding members of the gang, and veteran supporting actors like Suchitra Pillai and Saharsh Kumar Shukla help fill out the world.

The film was shot using natural lighting and handheld cameras, giving the film a raw quality appropriate for this view of life on the margins of society. Even with a big Bollywood budget, there’s little one would want to change about Tikli and Laxmi Bomb, so effective is its world-building and so well-organized is its story. Hopefully a successful turn on the festival circuit results in a way for the masses to see Tikli and Laxmi Bomb, because it deserves a wide audience.



Retro Review: Harishchandrachi Factory (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon

I normally review only Hindi movies, but I made an exception for Harishchandrachi Factory. The Marathi movie was India’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 2010 Academy Awards. Ultimately, it wasn’t one of the five nominees, but it is worth watching.

The film is about the creation of the first full-length Indian motion picture in 1913: Raja Harishchandra, a depiction of the life of an ancient king renowned for always keeping his promises and telling the truth, no matter the consequences for him and his family.

(I didn’t think the moral of the story of Harishchandra was explained clearly via the movie’s subtitles. I had to look up the story later to appreciate some of the references.)

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke was the man responsible for Raja Harishchandra, in addition to dozens of other movies over the span of 19 years. He’s credited for founding the Indian film industry, back when cinema was dominated by the British.

Harishchandrachi Factory begins in 1911, when Phalke (Nandu Madhav) sees his first motion pictures: a documentary on bullfighting and a depiction of the life of Jesus Christ. He’s instantly seized with the notion of making an Indian film for an Indian audience.

Phalke, having recently sold his stake in a printing company, convinces his wife, Saraswati (Vibhawari Deshpande), and several investors that movie making is just another kind of printing, winning their support. He spends two months in England learning the trade and returns with the necessary camera equipment.

Phalke’s path is remarkably free of obstacles. Saraswati takes her husband’s career change in stride, never complaining as he sells most of their furniture to finance his London trip, which he schedules when she’s supposed to give birth to their third child. And Phalke has little trouble getting money from investors, who are impressed by his hard work ethic and the potential of the new storytelling medium.

The only hiccups occur when Phalke actually starts making his movie. Motion pictures are held in such low regard that even prostitutes refuse to join Phalke’s production, for fear of ruining their reputations. The men he hires to play the female roles are reluctant to shave their mustaches.

The lack of conflict, despite conventional wisdom, actually makes Harishchandrachi Factory more enjoyable. There is enough inherent risk in being a pioneer. Manufactured arguments between, say, Phalke and Saraswati would’ve been depressing, rather than dramatic. Happy onscreen relationships are rare enough as it is.

Harishchandrachi Factory is impressive, given that it was made for less than $500,000. But the meagreness of the budget is evident in some aspects of the movie. The costumes, particularly those of the British characters, look cheap and made from modern synthetic fabrics.

Despite the fact that they’ve little to do, the Anglo actors are distractingly bad. Most of the extras look like they were kidnapped from a British university field trip. Still, Harishchandrachi Factory is a fun and educational experience, if not a completely immersive one.