The message is laudable, the idea progressive and therefore, despite its creative stakes, Tikli and Laxmi Bomb is somewhat of a rewarding watch.
Aditya Kripalani adapted her 2015 book of the same name to make it a feature film set in the world of sex workers in Mumbai. The depth of the material gives Tikli and Laxmi Bombe the setting, the characters and the texture – a dark feel – that lends itself to cinema.
Two sex workers from Mumbai – Putul (Chitrangada Chakraborty), rebellious newbie and tired veteran Laxmi Malwankar (Vibhawari Deshpande) – develop bond and idea. They are experimenting with an idea to create an autonomous system that frees them from slavery to levels of male exploitation. These include the pimp and the police. Are they successful in their somewhat naive and idealistic endeavor? Will the brotherhood of street walkers remain united? Will the men withdraw and give in to a new order without a fight? Who or what is Tikli? The answers to these questions can be found in the film, which is now streaming on Netflix.
Laxmi, 40, protectively watches over her brood of daughters and deals with the tense equation with the chain of men claiming their pound of flesh. Deshpande expresses physical exhaustion and resignation, and evokes sympathy for the woman who succumbed to the roll of the dice. Chakraborty plays the rebel defying the patriarchal system with aplomb. On the other hand, Upendra Limaye, as the Mhatre pimp, is loud and exaggerated. Cops are largely unscrupulous stereotypes. The cast also includes Suchitra Pillai as another veteran street walker and Mayur More as TA, the rickshaw driver with a Bollywood dream defeated.
Transforming a book into a screenplay requires special skill and the most glaring flaw of Tikli is this. As a screenwriter, screenwriter and dialogue writer, as well as a director, Kripalani explained every emotion, every action and the result of every action was also shown. The graphic in the movie is like a wave – it drives the audience up and down just like the characters, but after a while that rhythm becomes boring. The use of songs adds drag to the narrative, which would have benefited from inventive editing.
By collaborating with an all-female team, what Kripalani effectively achieves is to create the staging. The dark and seedy places and streets, costumes and lighting create tension as these girls put themselves in potential danger as they wander away with strangers night after night. We thank Kripalani for treating the subject with sensitivity and care, for addressing issues of gender inequality, for championing feminism and for addressing the plight of sex workers with respect. The message is laudable, the idea progressive and therefore, despite its creative stakes, Tikli and Laxmi Bombe is sort of a rewarding watch.