Growing up in the '90s - when Prabhudeva blazed into the Tamil cinema scene with his impossible moves, and when Prabhudeva pants became a fashion statement - it is hard to dislike Lakshmi. The AL Vijay film is about a young girl (Ditya Bhande), who is crazy about dance, but her mother, Nandini (Aishwarya Rajesh), will not allow her to pursue her passion. And then, she decides to enter a reality TV show called Pride of India.
This is an interesting premise, which offers plenty of opportunities to build conflict. But AL Vijay squanders the chance with poorly written characters, who are mere caricatures. Lakshmi doesn't have a single realistic frame; what we get instead are cutesy scenes that are so obviously staged. Take, for instance, the scene when Lakshmi is called to the principal's (Kovai Sarala doing Kovai Sarala things) office. The complaint is that she has been caught dancing in class. But even before any tension could seep into the scene, we are given a 'resolution' in the form of an unhinged principal.
The plot is predictable as such films tend to be. We all know that a competition is coming up, someone will play dirty and the team we are rooting for will triumph in the end. But where such films score is in how that story is told. Lakshmi, however, relies solely on the dance skills of Prabhudeva, with Ditya and other young dancers to power it through. All of them can certainly move a limb and more (the overweight Arnold, who is sadly fat-shamed in a despicable scene, is a revelation), but the script lets them down with its limited imagination. For instance, the big conflict between Krishna (Prabhudeva) and Yusuf is rather juvenile. And considering Krishna has been away from the dance scene for a dozen years, it seems pretty absurd that everyone should treat him like...he's the real-life Prabhudeva.
Aishwarya Rajesh, a dependable performer, is relegated to making phone calls and looking confused. Although her character, Nandini, has a reason for her hatred towards dance, it's far from convincing. We already know how the film is going to end and we're not even halfway through. The situations that Vijay has come up with are too sketchy to really make an impact; take for instance how Nandini and Krishna meet. She just goes dancing into his cafe because there's music playing and hangs out with him and his waiter (Karunakaran). In this day and age, when middle-class parents are more paranoid than ever before about their child's safety, Lakshmi and Nandini seem to inhabit a cotton candy world full of rainbows and unicorns. To Ditya's credit, she manages to stay likeable despite the bratty character she is.
There was so much more that Vijay could have done with the film, considering how much has been written about children and reality TV shows - the pressure, the age-inappropriate song lyrics and dance moves, abuse on the sets and more. But not only does he leave this aspect unexplored (all we get is a stereotypical TRP-hungry showman), he seems to be all for children putting themselves through physical pain and emotional trauma to win a title. In a dramatic dance with the Adam-Eve theme, the contestants actually fall on pointed pins thrown by their evil competitors and bleed (a recreation of the crucifixion of Christ). Instead of intervening, a teary Krishna is moved by their "dedication". Well, this would qualify as child abuse to any sane person.
What makes us sit through the film are the dancers. It's a joy to watch Prabhudeva as well as the children dance although Sam CS's music starts sounding the same after a point. The dancers have worked hard without a doubt for Lakshmi, but the director's missteps are one too many for them to win the audience.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.