Fair, fresh and barely fourteen. Pretty and virgin. Comes with a price tag (negotiable). Ready for sale! This is what a brothel-broker’s sale-pitch would’ve been for teenage girl Laskhmi (Monali). A good bargain for a piece of puberty (sic!). Lakshmi’s story of tragedy, trauma and triumph begins here.
An obnoxious pimp Chinna (Nagesh) buys off Lakshmi from a village in Andhra Pradesh and packs her off to a brothel (owned by his own corrupt brother, Reddy – Satish Kaushik) called Dharam Vilas Girls Hostel – a sham set up to run his sex trade. Soon she’s thrown into a dark world of sex-hungry men who’re ready to pay premium for her puberty. The ‘madame’ of the brothel (Shefali) trains her for the job (with padded bras and jellies to ‘slip it in’) while her roommate (Flora) teaches her how to allure the sleazeballs. She forges a friendship, but unable to suffer the atrocities, Lakshmi tries to escape the sex slavery. It leads to more unbearable brutality, but she’s a fighter. She drags her oppressors to the courtroom and exposes their despicable crimes.
Kukunoor’s ‘Lakshmi’, based on a harrowing true story, is a thought-provoking, disturbing film told with heartbreaking detail and a narrative that is so raw and ruthlessly realistic, it often becomes repulsive. The repeat scenes of sexual exploitation (layered with lewd dialogues: ‘Machine mein tel daal, factory kholna hai’) are gut-wrenching. Several movies and documentaries have been filmed on this subject, what makes this special is the steadfast resolve of a 14-year-old to fight social demons.
We wish Kukunoor had focused more on her spirit and triumph – our experience would’ve been more fulfilling, less overbearing. Shefali is brilliant, debutant Monali expresses with her beautiful eyes. Kapoor and Kaushik are average and Nagesh doesn’t push his performance too far.
Lakshmi is sold off and forced into prostitution but she has the grit and gumption to free herself from the bondage of the brothel.
Lakshmi’s story makes your heart bleed. If you have the courage, watch it.
The Times of India