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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Laxmmi Bomb: Are Transgender People Represented Fairly in Bollywood?

The trailer of Akshay Kumar starrer Laxmmi Bomb, directed by Raghava Lawrence, has just surfaced on the web and it will have a 9th November Diwali release on Disney Plus Hotstar.

It is the remake of Lawrence’s original Tamil film Muni 2: Kanchana and the Bollywood version also has Kiara Advani in the cast. 

The first glimpse starts with a scary note, giving the impression that it is a horror flick but as soon as one watches it further, it emerges as a crazy wild-side of Akshay’s character.

Muni 2 showcases the main protagonist who is scared to venture outside gets possessed by a ghost and starts behaving weirdly.

The ghost turns out to be a transgender woman who vows vengeance on an MLA who murdered herself and family for land-grabbing.

Whilst the trailer does not reveal much about the apparition, it seems like the Hindi will also follow suit, as we see almost a demonic representation of her character.

Majorly, we saw comical undertones of the main character getting possessed in the Bollywood trailer.

But we don’t get a glimpse of how the transgender woman faces the hardship of coming to terms with her emotions in acceptance of her identity – which is what Muni 2 touched on.

Having seen the trailer, it has made me question whether the transgender community has been represented fairly over the years in Bollywood?

Stereotypical and Antagonising Representations

A few Mahesh Bhatt films – namely Sadak (1991), Sangharsh (1999) and Murder 2 (2011) portray transgender people in a sinister and antagonistic way.

Sadak exhibits Maharani (Sadashiv Amarpukar) as an evil brothel madame who tortures and trafficks young women.

Given that such a character is given a prominent screen-space, most stereotypical tropes are included and this in-turn portrays the community in a condescending manner.

Then in Sangharsh, Lajja Shankar Pandey (Ashutosh Rana) is a rather Hinduphobic representation.

As such, the character is seen as someone who is a Kali worshipper, abducted little children, sacrificed and cannibalised them at a Satan-like Kali’s altar.

On a similar vein, Dheeraj Pandey (Prashant Narayanan) in Murder 2 is a serial killer and kidnapper, castrated himself and became a eunuch to get rid of his sex addiction, with the help of a fellow eunuch and a big-shot politician, Nirmala Pandit.

All these films depict transgender people as menacing and evil, almost branding them as the villains of society.

What’s worse is that comedies like Kya Kool Hai Hum franchise, Partner and Masti have also showcased predatory representations of transgender women.

Straight men are terrified at the thought of being with a transgender person and their transphobia further demonises the third gender.

As it is, seeking acceptance of equality is tough and such horrible depictions only worsen the matter.

Sensitive and (Some) Hopeful Portrayals

One cannot deny that there are scarce and very few depictions of transgender people, with films like Daayra (1996), Tamanna (1997) and Shabnam Mausi (2005), which did not really gain eyeballs by the prevailing audiences.

Amol Palekar’s Daayra is a courageous film which revolves around dealing with issues of sexuality and accepting people for what they are.

It shows a trans character who forms a close bond with a gender-fluid young girl who takes on a male identity.

Tamanna is apparently based on a true story about a celebrity transgender make-up/hairdresser, who adopts an abandoned baby.

The Mahesh Bhatt directorial is very complex and deals majorly about the societal reactions toward the Hijra community and a child’s reaction to having a parent who is trans.

Plus, it also touches on societal subjects like female-foeticide, misogyny and gender inequality.

Ashutosh Rana once again steps into the titular role of a transgender in the hard-hitting Shabnam Mausi. 

The gritty and realistic movie based on the first transgender Indian to be elected to public office (MLA).

Arguably, for the first time in Hindi cinema, we saw a character from the third gender essayed as a hero who despite facing brutal circumstances, spearheads the community and fights for rights.

In some more recent works like Bombay Talkies and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitarewe’ve seen gender fluidity through the lens of children.

Whilst the ending of Bombay Talkies is questionable, it showcases a child dancing unapologetically to female-oriented songs, which his father strictly disapproves of.

As for Dolly Kitty, the mother eventually accepts her son’s inclination towards feminity, giving a sense of hope and progression.

Final Word

The latter examples which we’ve explored in this article, are endeavours to provide a mature/sensitive insight into the lives and hurdles of transgender people.

But most of the ‘hopeful’ films like Daayra, Tamanna and Shabnam Mausi are quite emotionally heavy and heart-rending to watch nor are they ‘mainstream’ cinema.

At the same time, the ‘commercial’ films like Sadak, Sangharsh and Murder 2 are discriminatory and disrespectful by their constant demonisation of the community.

It can therefore be said that the representation of the transgender community is divided between two extremities, without any middle ground.

Whilst playing such roles is great for actors on individual levels, such general characterisations make us question why it’s always black and white and not grey?

Undoubtedly, trans people face extreme hardships and it is important to address their stories of challenges. In fact, non-Hindi movies have done that successfully in works like Super Deluxe and Canadian comedy-drama Venus.

However, I think we as a society deserve to also see uplifting Hindi movies which offer hope and progression of the community. It’s high time.

Laxmmi Bomb streams on Disney Plus Hotstar for a 9th November, Diwali release.

Watch the Laxmmi Bomb trailer here:


Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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