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When two sex workers, one spunky and rebellious, and the other cautious and realistic, meet, there is a lot of conflict and discord but there is also a camaraderie and love that evolves into something constructive and new. The resulting film, is Tikli And Laxmi Bomb.
Tikli and Laxmi Bomb (2017) is a film about women, their friendships, their hardships, their love and frustrations and above all their struggle for power, over economic power, a struggle that evolves out of a collective, a sisterhood that is shaped out of sex workers who work under a middle man.
It is a film about this sisterhood, about girl gangs in an age that celebrates bromance. Women’s collectives work in a very complex space, especially when it is a group of sex workers who dare to form a collective, so that the money they earn is not snatched away by middle men. This film by Aditya Kripalani provides a new visual experience, since it has succeeded in shaping a gaze that is neutral and female-friendly.
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The film gives us a glimpse of the night life in a realistic manner, with the women waiting for clients in the neon lit cityscape. There is a sense of permanence for the city while the women live a fleeting existence. This transient nature of the presence of these women foregrounds the importance of their struggle for self-assertion and their quarrel with the hegemonic hierarchy of power that normalises the exploitation and oppression these women suffer at the hands of the men who control their lives and their money.
Films on sisterhood or girl gangs are aplenty in the West, beginning from the 1950s. We have had a few films around sisterhood in Bollywood too. These films take on various themes like high school dramas, street gangs, road journeys, or the angst and anxieties that create a feeling of affinity among upper class and sometimes middle aged women. Many of these films from the West deal with class mates fighting or women in conflict with one another like in Mean Girls. In Bollywood, several of these films address social issues that centre around women’s lives in contemporary India.
While sisterhood in feminist discourses may have lost its significance in the age of identity politics and intersectionality, it still remains a strong theme in cultural narratives with women’s issues as the core theme. The diversity in the nature of the struggles of these women emerges as the strength that empowers them to fight the patriarchally structured exploitative system of which they are an integral part and which is sustained by the money that these women bring in by selling their bodies. As bell hooks says, this bonding over sisterhood is not over a shared sense of victimisation or combating a common enemy. It is a political commitment since the women bond together to empower themselves economically, which further strengthens them, and instills a sense of accomplishment that is aptly established in the scenes of celebration.
This film will remind us of another sisterhood film, Veere di Wedding that was released recently and will strikingly highlight the pretentious and superficial nature of such films in their portrayal of girl gangs and their potentialities. Tikli and Laxmi Bomb has several women, conceived as genuine people who have learnt to live their lives fully, despite being in an exploitative profession, constantly living in danger, amidst the squalor and inadequacies of Mumbai city spaces. When the two women, Tikli and Laxmi decide to eliminate the middle man and his henchmen, they face the threat of extinction. Even when confronted by death threats they decide to fight it out and celebrate their victories, in style.
This film works around the sisterhood of these sex workers and the relentless struggle to emerge as a collective. Their fight for their agency might not have succeeded, yet the film is a celebration of the journey they made towards dignity and a declaration of their identity as women who have learnt to survive. This film celebrates the revolt of the women who remain loyal to the sisterhood, the sense of being a collective empowering them immensely, erasing elements of victimhood and enabling them to challenge a violent and abusive authority that has been enjoying absolute power over women for centuries.
It exposes the cruel and oppressive nature of patriarchy that is abusive and violent, the violence being a structural one, and the women’s resistance, a historical one. If feminism is all about lived practices, then the women in this film are feminists to the core, who have discovered the power of the collective and decided to own their lives and make their own choices.
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