Bollywood, Disney and Akshay Kumar all blamed for Laxmii – the Hindi comedy horror film with an insensitive treatment of the trans community

Actor Sharad Kelkar, in a scene from the Bollywood film Laxmii, which is attracting widespread criticism for its depiction of trans people. Photo: @SharadK7/Twitter
An overdue conversation about the damage Bollywood does to the LGBTQ+ community is finally taking centre stage. The row erupted after Laxmii, a Bollywood film centred on a male character ( played by Akshay Kumar) being possessed by the ghost of a trans woman, was released on streaming service Disney+ Hotstar on November 9.

The Indian public’s response? Rage. And on a number of fronts.

Deemed a flop by critics

A remake of a Tamil film, Kanchana, critics have called Laxmii a film that “manages to take everything good and turn it into a stinking pile of mediocrity” while being “distasteful, boring and reinforcing dead stereotypes.” Right-wing critics have hit out at it too, calling it “anti-Hindu”.

Clueless about the community

It’s the backlash the film has received from India’s trans community that is most noteworthy. Laxmii reinforces stereotypes held in India about a community that, despite sometimes being called upon for their perceived “good luck”, is largely ostracised.


“This red sari, this red bindi, this turmeric – these are our identifiers as Kinnars; they are our culture, but this film, Laxmmi Bomb [the movie’s original title] is making fun of us and our appearance,” says Madhuri Sarode Sharma, India’s first trans LIC (Life Insurance Company) agent in an Instagram video, adding, “Hey, Akshay Kumar, we’re not wearing these bangles because we saw a ghost.”

Kris Chudawala, a Mumbai-based non-binary trans rights activist and co-founder of the Thane Queer Collective, an initiative to form a safe space for queer people, says the backlash from the community is well-founded and much needed.

Bad film, bad acting, bad portrayals

“This film feels like Akshay Kumar is imitating a trans character,” says Chudawala, whose preferred pronouns are “they” and “he”. “It looks like when bullies try to imitate [people] – to make fun of you, they over exaggerate it. And that is what Akshay Kumar’s [acting] looks like to me.”


In the weeks leading up to the film’s release, netizens called for a boycott on Twitter, with #DisneyStopTransphobia and #ShameOnYouAkshayKumar trending briefly. Meanwhile, Priya Patil, president of the Nationalist Congress Party’s LGBT cell, wrote to the joint commissioner of police in Mumbai, flagging Akshay Kumar, Disney+ Hotstar and director Raghava Lawrence. In the letter, Patil said the film “depicts the entire LGBTQIA+ community in a negative way” and its outcome “will lead to a lot of issues for the community for several years”. Patil also wrote to the board of censors and Disney+ Hotstar.

Trans actors employed – but without speaking roles

The film also actively chooses not to cast trans actors in leading roles, but rather, as extras. “It’s like saying, ‘Sorry, trans people can’t speak for themselves, so we will fight for you’,” explains Chudawala. All the while, trans actors are given non-speaking roles. “It’s like you’re saying we’re not capable of acting, even as supporting characters, so we don’t get [lines]. Even in flashback scenes, the living Laxmi character is played by a [cisgender] man!”

Donation is not representation

In a Facebook post, director Raghava Lawrence announced back in March that Kumar would be donating the equivalent of US$202,000 to build a home for trans people, purportedly the first in India. It doesn’t seem to have saved him from subsequent criticism.

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India’s LGBT community is calling for a boycott following the Disney+ Hotstar release of Laxmii – Raghava Lawrence’s transphobic remake of the Tamil-language Kanchana – starring Akshay Kumar and Kiara Advani