Nagesh Kukunoor returns with a forceful story of hope and heroism

One rarely hears of him except when he resurfaces with an end product. “I still haven’t gotten wind of this whole marketing thing,” laughs Nagesh Kukunoor. The promo of his new film Lakshmi, unveiled recently, gives us a peek into a hard-hitting story of heroism; a story of a teenager taking her traffickers to court. “I’ve been wanting to tell this story for a few years now,” says Nagesh.

Nagesh is associated with an NGO that rescues victims of child trafficking. As he listened to many women, a number of harrowing stories emerged and among them, one story of a girl who took on her captors. “Lakshmi is a fictional account of many stories pieced together. I met several young women who’ve faced years of abuse. In an urban scenario, such women would have had psychiatric help. These women, despite not having had that option, came out showing immense courage,” says Nagesh. On many occasions, when women plainly told him they had been abused, he had to piece together the story from the NGO rather than getting into the details the victims would best want to forget.

The challenge, he says, was to narrate the story sensitively without letting it get brutal, shocking and repulsive. “The focus of my story is hope and heroism and not to sensationalise the plight of young women caught in trafficking. But to show their courage, it was imperative to let the audience have a glimpse into their abuse,” he says. It goes without saying that Nagesh is prepared for an A certificate for the film.

Lakshmi stars singer Monali Thakur (of the enchanting Sawaar Loon in Lootera) as Lakshmi, apart from Shefali Shah, Ram Kapoor, Satish Kaushik and Nagesh himself as a vile trafficker. At first, Nagesh considered casting a 14-year-old in the title role but later decided against it. “Why expose a child to such a story? Though on screen, the girl wouldn’t have to do anything uncomfortable, I’d have to explain the exploitation for her to understand. I didn’t think it was appropriate to do that. I wanted someone 21 and above who could look young. I spotted Monali at a party and asked her to audition since she said she was interested in acting. She was spot on and showed an amazing understanding of the situation given to her,” says the filmmaker.

As someone who sort of pioneered the independent wave before corporate houses began backing such projects, Nagesh says it still isn’t easy. “Any time you play with a story that’s out of the regular box office framework, it’s going to be tough to get funds,” he concedes. For Lakshmi, when one person funding the project backed out, Satish Kaushik came forward to help and brought in Pen Films. Lakshmi is a co-production between Pen, UV News Media and Nagesh’s own Sic Productions.

Nagesh’s last commercial success was Iqbal, followed by Dor that earned rich critical acclaim. Bombay to Bangkok, Tasveer 8X10, Aashayein and Mod had lukewarm reception at the box office. “I’m a storyteller and like to tell diverse stories. Of course when films do well, it’s easier to make the next project,” he says. Lakshmi is slated to release in January and post that, Nagesh wants to do commercially viable films keeping the independent spirit intact.