INTERVIEW

In indie film ‘Tikli and Laxmi Bomb’, a women’s co-operative like no other

The film about women in the sex trade trying to get a better deal for themselves is eyeing a mid-2018 release.

A revolver cloaked in a pink condom towers over Mumbai’s skyscrapers. The gun is flanked by the words “A revolution in the sex trade” in the poster for Aditya Kripalani’s debut film Tikli And Laxmi Bomb.

Based on Kripalani’s 2015 book of the same name, Tikli And Laxmi Bomb is about two sex workers (Chitrangada Chakraborty and Vibhawari Deshpande) who try to form an autonomous co-operative to push abusive male pimps out of the business. The film, which got its Indian premiere at the Kolkata International Festival in November, is eyeing a mid-2018 theatrical release.

The movie tries to envision a world run by women, Kripalani told Scroll.in. “If women were to lead the world, then how would they do it differently?” Kripalani said. “We got a chance with this film, in a microcosm, to talk about what might happen soon. Women in this film run it as a co-operative. Of course there are leaders and rebellions, but everyone has a role to play.”

Also starring Suchitra Pillai and Upendra Limaye, the film was recently screened at the Jaipur International Film Festival, where Chakraborty won the Best Debutante Actress title for her portrayal of Tikli.

Image credit: Mumba Devi Motion Pictures.
Image credit: Mumba Devi Motion Pictures.

With a screenplay writing degree from the Film and Television Institute of India, Kripalani tried his hand at creative consulting in a few production companies before quitting his job in 2016 to make his directorial debut. He started writing the script in 2016, a few months after the publication of his book. What made a novelist with three books to his credit go behind the camera?

“I wanted the book’s message to reach a larger audience,” Kripalani said. “At some point when I wanted to write an anti-patriarchy story, I wrote this book. But I realised that readers are only x amount. When I was a kid, many more people used to read. Now even those people read anymore and the numbers have gone down. I felt that the story needed to go further, and film is the direct medium for that. I did not want the story to be restricted just to readers.”

Tikli and Laxmi Bomb (2018). Image credit:  Mumba Devi Motion Pictures.
Tikli and Laxmi Bomb (2018). Image credit: Mumba Devi Motion Pictures.

Kripalani’s research involved observing and interviewing sex workers in Mumbai. “The main thing that affected me was that these women work in a total lack of safety,” Kripalani said. “They also do not have much control over their professional lives and that is really unfair. The lack of ego among these women was also interesting. There is a certain sisterhood in them, which I haven’t seen in men. While there is the whole bro-bonding thing, egos come in much faster among men, who work as a team.”

The filmmaker stressed that his movie was not a sob story, and that its lighthearted narrative was inspired by the sex workers he met while making the movie. “When you meet these women and chat with them, you get to know that they are very fun-loving people,” Kripalani said. “Once the human mind is used to the general overall predicament, he or she will have fun. Even in a situation that is oppressive at a sociological level, they are pretty much in control of their lives.”

Aditya Kripalani.
Aditya Kripalani.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.