Akshay Kumar, a synonym for exaggerated masculinity, will play a transgender person in the upcoming Laxmmi Bomb. Kumar’s previous attempts to get in touch with his feminine side include the Abbas-Mustan hit Khiladi (1992), in which he was barely convincing in drag.
Laxmmi Bomb is among the movies that will be streamed on the Disney+ Hotstar platform over the next few months. It is an official remake of Tamil filmmaker Raghava Lawrence’s 2011 hit Kanchana. Lawrence has also directed the remake, thus making his first leap from Kollywood to Bollywood.
Kanchana is the second in a seemingly never-ending franchise of horror comedies directed by and starring Lawrence (there have been four, with the latest one out in 2019). Kanchana revolves around Raghava (played by Lawrence), who is terrified of ghosts. Sure enough, he gets possessed by one – the spirit of a transgender person out for vengeance.
The gender-bending in Kanchana extends to its casting. Tamil actor Sarath Kumar, another poster boy for brawniness, plays the titular ghost who is hanging around on the planet in order to avenge injustice.
The formula was put in place in Lawrence’s Muni in 2007. In Muni, Lawrence’s Ganesh is so terrified of supernatural elements that he refuses to leave his house after nightfall. When Ganesh moves into a new house with his family, he doesn’t realise that a dark blob that makes guttural sounds lives there. The ghost, Muni, enters Ganesh’s body and commands him to do his bidding. Hindu priests and Muslim faith healers are called in to exorcise the spirit, and their efforts reveal Muni’s real intent.
Muni wove its spell around the box office despite tacky production values and floor-level visual effects. Its basic premise seemed solid enough, and its main selling point was humour, rather than horror. The cast included such seasoned comic performers such as Kovai Sarala, who was among the characters who flapped about in fright as Muni emitted yet another growl or revealed himself. And yet, Lawrence took care not to let the film slide into parody, thereby ensuring that he laughed all the way to the bank.
Kanchana is very similar to Muni. Lawrence is back, this time with a new identity (Raghava) and a new heroine. Kovai Sarala returns as the hero’s mother. Her daughter-in-law is played by comedy specialist Devadarshini. Once again, the main setting is a large bungalow that is inhabited by a ghost. She makes Raghava behave in unusual ways: he develops feminine mannerisms and a fondness for saris and jewellery. A shaman reveals the story of why Kanchana (Sarath Kumar) is angry and undead.
The visual effects in Kanchana are a step up from Muni, but just about. The sequel is much longer too, and devotes a great deal of time to Raghava’s transformation and his love life. The Hindi version has the opportunity to at least improve on the strictly functional make-up and special effects. Kiara Advani stars in the Hindi remake, and Tusshar Kapoor is also listed in the credits.
A dubbed Hindi version of Kanchana is out on YouTube, but the temptation to remake it is understandable. Kumar has starred in his fair share of remakes of Southern hits, including Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007), Rowdy Rathore (2012) and Holiday (2014). A formula that has worked in other film industries usually holds in Hindi too even though the original is easily available.
The gimmickiness of Kanchana’s premise and its clever interweaving of horror, comedy and social purpose make the Tamil production well-suited for a remake. Kumar has tried out various roles in recent years: champion of toilets and better sanitation, evangelist of affordable sanitary pads, pre-Independence warrior, the leader of India’s Mars orbiter mission. Here he is now in a bun and a sari, seeking righteous revenge – the hero as well as the heroine.