Sex workers are not martyrs or sad: Aditya Kripalani on upcoming film 'Tikli and Laxmi Bomb'

The film is about two sex workers who come together to eliminate the middlemen in the sex trade.
Sex workers are not martyrs or sad: Aditya Kripalani on upcoming film 'Tikli and Laxmi Bomb'
Sex workers are not martyrs or sad: Aditya Kripalani on upcoming film 'Tikli and Laxmi Bomb'
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Aditya Kripalani's unusual book Tikli and Laxmi Bomb is about two sex workers who come together to run a co-operative and eliminate the middlemen in the sex trade. Now, the writer has turned director and made the book into a film.

An FTII graduate, Aditya speaks to The News Minute about the inspiration behind choosing such a 'lady oriented' subject, the challenges in doing the research for such an unusual film and where he hopes to go with Tikli and Laxmi Bomb.

Where did your inspiration for an unusual story like Tikli and Laxmi Bomb come from?

I'd watched Thelma and Louise years ago at the FTII Pune, I think in the year 2003, and have wondered ever since why we aren't making a film with that wild a spirit, with that acerbic a telling, in India.

And mostly the answer to that question is to just get up and make it yourself. I wanted to make an anti patriarchy story. A story about defiance and kindness. A story the theme of which would be 'Sisterhood above all.'

Something that talks about how patriarchy tries to divide women. And it's only in standing together and for each other that women might be able to overthrow patriarchy from its very roots.

Also that women in this strata of society have it worst in terms of dealing with the evils of patriarchy. And so if a revolution is possible here, it's possible anywhere.

How challenging was it to turn the novel into a screenplay?

It wasn't too challenging as I'd written the novel itself in a 3 act structure. It wasn't episodic in nature but revolved around a central premise already. Fortunately, my training as a writer was at the FTII and it was as a screenwriter that I'd trained.

So somewhere, it wasn't as tough for me to write a screenplay, though its been more a decade since I wrote one. It felt like coming back home.

 I did miss the fact that I couldn't spend as much time in a character's head as I did in a novel, but then there are other beautiful parts to film as a medium which you get to embrace as a writer for the screen that make the journey worth it.

This is a story which looks at sex work from the perspective of sex workers themselves. Do you worry that it will be seen as too "lady oriented" by the censors?

That could be a problem. But then look at what happened with Lipstick Under My Burkha, a stone pelted at it in one country has become a flower laid before it in another. It's done so well internationally in the festival circuit.

 I think a work of art finally finds its place. Like Black Friday did years ago. And I do believe a story like this needs to be told. I am hopeful that there will be positive change with the Censor Board. For it is a verrryy lady oriented film.

 What kind of research into the sex trade went into writing the story, given its about the women coming together to eliminate middle-men?

I spent a lot of time talking to sex workers around the SV road area (Mumbai). This would only work practically if I paid them for the sex and had a chat instead. As they're at work and making their living for the night, money is of primary importance and not some pesky guy's questions.

But once the money had exchanged hands and we were parked in a car somewhere, they were happy to talk for a change instead of having to do what they normally do.

A lot of them also opened up after the second or third time. And spoke of their lives, what drove them, urges, feelings, they shared their laughter. The most beautiful thing was that on their own, they're not 'martyrs' or sad at all. They're about as happy as women working in advertising or banking. It's just that they've seen patriarchy in its worst colours and so are wiser for it, in terms of how to deal with it. 

There are quite a few women-centric films which are being made today - do you see this as a real change in film business when it comes to gender equality and representation or do you feel this is a trend which won't sustain for long?

I feel its a beautiful change. When the Nirbhaya rape case happened, I was sad that for a year after that this hadn't happened (women-centric films). But it was all clearly in the process and now suddenly, there's a wave of films which are about women and for women and men.

And this, I feel proud of, that in whatever way possible, our most popular form of art namely films, is reflective of the public sentiment in general. And the women on screen are coming closer and closer to women off screen in terms of their portrayals.

 How many women were part of your crew in the making of the film (excluding the actors)?

The Director Of Photography is Aditi Sharma. The Chief Assistant Director is Anuradha Pandey. The Editor is Rachita Singh. The Costume Stylist is Suveera Ambade. The Head of Make Up is a lady named Sarah Lele. So almost every department head on this film is a woman.

Aditi used to carry around a 20kg camera with no complaint for 50 nights across Mumbai, Rachita Singh is an editor who's worked with Srikar Prasad for about 4 years, Sarah Lele did make up and prosthetics for 30 actors on a full film, almost single handedly, Suveera has done some fabulous styling reflective of the actual world of these women. Anuradha Pandey is like Xena the warrior princess as a Chief AD.

How did you do the casting for the film?

I spent a year casting. Watched two plays a week at Prithvi, met all the FTII pass outs from acting who were relevant to the film, met a ton of NSD actors who were relevant to the film, met actors from the Jeff Goldberg Studio in Mumbai, Anupam Kher's actors from his studio and I did a ton of auditions. No casting director. And we cast women who're from the same ethnic background and region as the characters; Uttarakhand, Kerala, the Konkani Coast etc. 

What happens to Tikli and Laxmi Bomb next? When is it expected to release?

We will be showing it to co-producers for it to be acquired once it's done at the edit table, sometime in July. Then the festival circuit. Hopefully by the end of this year or early next year, it should release.

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