In 2018 Stree introduced the public to a new genre, Horror Comedy. The movie managed to be funny and sincere while also providing social commentary. It also did all right as a feminist story despite the men doing most of the heavy lifting. The movie also sparked off a series of films exploring the genre.
This year’s Netflix release Bulbul utilized the horror genre to tell a story of feminine power and women’s lives. It was also well received and lauded for its gothic visuals, music and stellar performances from the cast.
Another film that comes to mind is 2019’s Housefull 4. Akshay Kumar took a break from making films about women’s experiences to indulge in some casual, lighthearted sexism. Laxmmi Bomb is his second installment in the genre. However, the trailer of this film looks to be neither funny nor “woke”.
The trailer starts where most American horror films do, in front of big house. A haveli, if you will. While dismissing the existence of ghosts, the protagonist says,”jiss din mere saamne bhoot aa gaya na toh maa kasam chudiyaan pehen loonga chudiyaan.” (The day I encounter a ghost, I’ll start wearing bangles.) Yep, that’s just a few seconds into the trailer. Another scene that stands out is when the protagonist wears a red saree, and is immediately slapped for it. This is followed by your usual “comic” reactions from the rest of the cast.
Fun fact, the likes and dislikes count has recently been made private by the makers.
Khiladi: The benevolent saviour
If you have seen the original film Kanchana you will find that the trailer doesn’t really divert from it. This film is also helmed by Raghava Lawrence who directed and acted in 2011’s original film. What has changed though is the discourse around the trans community. People have been making tireless efforts towards the upliftment of the community. Akshay Kumar himself has positioned himself as a vocal supporter of the diverse group.
He has also taken to the bollywood trend of making socially relevant films. Many worthy causes have fallen flat to his enormous stature and image. In fact his contribution in films about women’s stories is so incredible that Padman doesn’t even pass the Bechdel Test. Some might say this is problematic as the film becomes less about the women and about more their male “savior”. They may even say that it is counter productive as it only serves to please the privileged groups and doesn’t give a voice to the actual minorities. But just for a second let’s give this man the benefit of doubt. Just like we did to our friends who posted about BLM but kept mum about caste violence in India. Let us discuss other, more pressing issues.
What this film means for the trans community.
2008’s Dostana introduced a new word for the LGBTQ community to be used with derogatory connotations. Laxmmi Bomb seems to have designs on the same. The film makers may have had their hearts in the right place but nowhere does it seem to be reflected.
The scene in the trailer with the man getting slapped for wearing the saree sees violence and fear as an appropriate response to seeing trans women. Besides, this movie bases trans identity entirely on crossdressing. Gender identity doesn’t feature into the narrative at all.
This begs the question, why?
Why would you further vilify an already misunderstood and misrepresented community. Why would and add to their plight while taking the credit for playing “challenging roles”. Most cis gendered people have a very limited understanding of the trans community. The limited (mis)representation strengthens the prejudice one may have against the community. This is especially harmful as it has a direct impact on the lives of trans people and manifests into hate crimes, discrimination in personal and professional lives etc. Not to mention it has devastating impact on the mental health of the people themselves.
Why representation in the media matters.
As we already discussed, most people don’t know trans people personally. Hence, their only point of reference becomes the media.
Even in films that are made with sensitivity, the problem of cis men playing trans women still persists. The audience sees them outside of their “get-up” as men. This perpetuates the notion that trans women are just playing dress up with women’s clothing.
After the announcement of the trailer many people drew comparisons between it and JK Rowling’s transphobic tweets. Many supports of the benevolent khiladi were quick to point out he has openly shown support towards the community. And that his silence on #stoptransbill2019 was only coincidental.
But this is precisely the problem with casting famous cis actors in trans roles. The conversation shifts away from the community itself to the man playing the character or in this case, a caricature.
It stops being about the social stigma and prejudice that trans people face. It fails to confront the system that perpetuates transphobia. However, casting a trans person in the role would still not solve the fundamental problem. Sure, it would do wonders for representation but what we need desperately is authentic storytelling. We need more directors, writers telling their own stories in mainstream media and not just in obscure documentaries. The lived experiences of people should at the forefront and not the voyeuristic pleasures of the privileged.
Laxmmi Bomb comes to streaming services next month on Disney+ Hotstar. We urge you to check out Netflix’s Documentary, Disclosure.
Disclosure is an unprecedented, eye-opening look at transgender depictions in film and television, revealing how Hollywood simultaneously reflects and manufactures our deepest anxieties about gender. Watch the trailer for the netflix documentary here: