Raghava Lawrence’s Hindi remake of his hugely successful Tamil movie Kanchana was previously titled Laxmmi Bomb. The numerologically optimised title irked the Karni Sena, the vigilante Rajput group whose ability to influence movie titles is more powerful than anything that happens in Lawrence’s Bollywood debut. The moral of this story: sack the numerologist who tells you that extra vowels will usher in luck.
Lawrence’s movie is now known as Laxmii – a name that aims both to enhance the film’s fortunes and help it sidestep comparisons with damp squibs. The 141-minute remake is being streamed on Disney+ Hotstar, which has an advantage that a theatrical release doesn’t – the fast-forward button.
Akshay Kumar steps into the role played by Lawrence himself in the original film, which is part of the horror-comedy Muni franchise. The series revolves around righteous possession: victims of unjust murders refuse to depart to the afterworld and hang around waiting to find the right opportunity for revenge. The Muni menu includes jump scares, scary background sounds, slapstick humour and a social message.
In Laxmii, Asif (Kumar) and Rashmi (Kiara Advani) encounter the angry spirit of a trans woman while visiting Rashmi’s parents. Rashmi’s father Sachin (Rajesh Sharma) has not yet fully embraced Asif, and he has further cause for concern when Asif begins to display feminine mannerisms and develops an attachment to saris and face packs.
Sachin likes lemongrass tea – a sign of his upwardly mobile ways – but the family is horrified when Asif treats his face with a turmeric mix. Asif’s very young nephew declares that Hindu-Muslim conflict is old-fashioned, but the boy clearly hasn’t read this movie’s dated script.
Asif is described as a granite dealer as well as a ghostbuster. This model of rationality declares several times that the day he sees a spirit, he will wear bangles. The common phrase in Hindi that equates bangle-wearing and womanhood with weakness in men sits uncomfortably with the film’s supposedly progressive advocacy of the rights of trans people.
Any attempt to debunk superstitious beliefs and practices flies out of the window with Laxmii’s arrival. After the possessed Asif torments Rashmi’s family, a shaman is called in to communicate with the ghost, which reveals the source of Laxmii’s rage.
Since Farhad Samji has steered the new screenplay and is among the dialogue writers, groan-worthy wordplay and lazy references to older movies abound. A line about how emotions are the same whether in a man, a woman, or a trans person tells you how much Laxmii is up-to-speed with debates about gender and sexuality.
The gimmickiness and B-movie quality of the original production don’t survive the journey from Chennai to Mumbai. Laxmii has brighter lighting, glossier production values and marginally improved special effects. The remake is mostly faithful, but the strain to be comical and entertaining is visible on the faces of the entire cast.
Ayesha Raza and Ashwini Kalsekar, playing Rashmi’s relatives and the initial targets of Laxmii’s ire, look particularly agonised as they distort their faces and stretch their throat muscles. Akshay Kumar outshouts and out-hams all of them. His attempts to get in touch with his feminine side are as cringe-worthy as the notion that a man who tries on a sari or uses a face pack is automatically worthy of ridicule. Kiara Advani has less screen time than the trans spirit. Had she been replaced by Akshay Kumar in a double role as Asif’s wife, it wouldn’t have made any difference.