The Tamil woman’s desire

Yesterday, I watched the Tamil short film Lakshmi, which has apparently caused some amount of furore among the guardians of our ancient culture.

The titular character, Lakshmi, is your average over-worked and under-appreciated woman. She works at a printing press, and also works at home. She cooks, cleans, takes care of her husband and son. Her husband is rude and arrogant, he uses her callously for both his practical and sexual needs, and is probably having an affair.

One night, there is some sort of a strike taking place. Unable to return home, Lakshmi spends the night with a stranger she recognizes from her daily train commute. He is the man antithetical to her husband: he is a sculptor and artist (her husband works with the lathe), he is kind (her husband is not), he commends her for looking after her house and job (her husband doesn’t), and predictably, he knows Bharathiyar’s poems off the top of his head (naturally, her husband is not one for these poems).

In the film, Lakshmi calls her desire wrong, presumably because she is married. She isn’t supposed to want to spend the night with another man, even if her marital life is a pressure cooker waiting to burst.

The comments on the YouTube page are almost frightening: people are angry that the movie has besmirched the name of the goddess of wealth, people feel sorry for the son because his mother is a woman obsessed with love and lust, people think she is a prostitute, people are upset that there are others who have liked this movie.

If you asked me, all I could think of while watching the movie was the annoying characterisation of the Other Man, like a less selfish Srikanth from Kandukondein Kandukondein.

Yesterday, I also watched Meyaadha Maan, a Tamil romantic comedy that brings to us genre tropes set in Chennai: Boy and Girl from the farthest ends of the class and caste spectrum try to make their relationship work. The movie stays mostly true to the requirements of its category: it gives us pleasant looking leads, likable supporting characters, some unnecessary drama towards the climax that is resolved in the end credits, few forgettable songs.

Sudar, who is the male lead Murali’s sister, is in love with her brother’s friend Vinoth. She hates that Vinoth continues to look at her as a little sister, and distances herself from him. She wants him as her lover, a companion for the rest of her life. Surprisingly, Murali isn’t the kind of caveman who starts squawking because his friend didn’t honour the Bro Code. He is sympathetic to his sister’s situation when Vinoth denies harbouring feelings for her, and doesn’t want her to suffer the agony of unrequited love.

Murali’s love interest in the movie, Madhu, feels cornered when her parents go ahead with an arranged marriage she is not particularly invested in. She calls Murali over to her friend’s apartment and clumsily attempts to have sex with him. Even though she initiates this, she is still terrified that Murali might think of her as cheap, easy or desperate. Her fear is realised when he throws at her a particularly nasty comment, in a moment of frustration.

This scene is exaggerated for laughs, but I still found it somewhat affecting, and almost true to the situation many women in societies like ours find themselves in. They may be in relationships that lead to physical intimacy, but news of this intimacy might take flight in whisper networks and come back to them. They may then hear unpleasant things about themselves. They also have to deal with the nagging worry that their partner might now think lesser of them for wanting or agreeing to sexual relations.

The Tamil woman’s desire is always a minefield. It is like a unicorn; the moment it is spotted, people will collectively lose their minds.

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19 thoughts on “The Tamil woman’s desire

  1. I am glad to see a blog post on Lakshmi.

    Here’re my thoughts on the movie…

    Firstly, I thought that Lakshmi Priya turned in an exceptionally good performance, bold and convincing. I especially liked her equivocation at the bus stop. The ‘Other Man’ was a cliched character – of course, all artistes *have* to be liberal and have their own moral codes in the movies! But the actor played it well. The staging and production values, for a short film, were good too. I am highlighting all this because all of this is getting lost amidst the meme creators running amok!

    Talking of the theme, what disturbed me was that the adultery angle felt tossed off casually. As a friend argued, the film was “not about adultery, rather the choices people make.” But the movie is undoubtedly suggesting (if not showing) adultery on the part of the husband and wife. It is a serious enough issue that wrecks marriages that I felt it is deserving of a full length feature where you explore the implications of the acts (like Arth / Marupadiyum) or, like Woody Allen did spectacularly in “Match Point,” show audaciously a person getting away with…murder! But even there, Allen explored the lead character’s dilemma and guilt superbly. As unlikely as it is given public reactions, I would love for Lakshmi to be made into a full length feature with these very same actors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this is a short film focussed on her and what she chooses to do one night, so the psychological consequences of this decision and the bigger picture aren’t really explored, and maybe don’t need to be discussed at length in a short film. Of course, a feature length film would be fascinating!

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  2. I haven’t watched this movie and hope to catch it soon. Read some of the discussion on the twitter feed for Sowmeeya Rajendran and was amused.

    But off topic, have you watched Arjun Reddy? I just happened to catch it on Amazon prime last week and since then, have watched it several times now. Since the , I have also spent several hours reading all the comments on BR’s page for this movie review and read a fascinating piece of review for this movie on dontcallitbollywood.com.

    I found it very difficult to gulp down several of the misogynistic scenes in a movie that was very keen to show a middle finger to several of the societal norms including unapologetic premarital sex. I went to med school almost 20 yrs ago, maybe it is all the nostalgia that made me watch this movie so many times. But 20 years ago, female classmate who engaged in premarital sex were discussed in such condescending tones. Maybe 20 years from now, a woman having desire will not be a big deal?

    Anyways if you end up watching Arjun Reddy, would love to read your take on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice write-up. I don’t know why the movie Lakshmi is creating such a fuss. Though the movie does try to push some boundaries through its content, the movie itself is quite clumsily made and full of cliches. The lathe-worker treating everyone like his machines, the sensitive artist/painter who loves to travel, is delicate and understands human emotions, the woman waiting to be emancipated by a man who’ll be the rain in her barren desert that’s life. Add to that some amateurish acting, over-expository dialogues, wannabe deep lines with Barathiyar invocation, and bad music. I couldn’t buy a moment of that conversation in the bus stand, let alone Lakshmi accepting that painter dude’s invitation, who she’s just met after seeing him a few times in train. I’m not talking about her moral choice here, rather the logical choice. That dude sounded legit creepy.

    All the problems apart, the intention of the movie, the point it was trying to make, is absolutely important and I’m happy to see that it’s pissed off a few people with its ‘message’. If not shatter, it atleast managed to create a conversation about the notion of purity associated with married women. The furore it created around Lakshmi’s choices is proof enough that the married man is always absolved of his behavior (almost abusive) towards his wife. And how does a movie showing a character taking a particular choice at a situation become a promotion of adultery? The movie is just a delve into the psyche of a normal lower middle class working woman, including her sexual desires, which is quite refreshing. Is the movie badly made, from a cinematic point of view? Yes. But is the movie raising points that requires a much-needed discussion in our society? Absolutely yes.

    Btw, congrats on the new venture, ‘The world of Apu’! (just got to know from BR’s blog)

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    1. Thanks for your comment Aadhy! I just sent you a message through the contact form on your blog, so the timing is quite interesting. 🙂
      Yes, I agree with everything you said. I was so exasperated by the cliches that I couldn’t find the energy to enumerate them.
      Maybe she just needs a break, maybe she thinks it would be a good idea to do something out of the ordinary for once, maybe she thinks he will be kind because his eyes are kind or whatever. He is obviously trying a pick-up line at the bus stop, and maybe she decides to go along with it because she doesn’t want to go home.
      It’s almost funny that this movie has become so controversial – I think it takes too much care to tell us WHY she is intimate with another man, and her reasons are still within the realm of Propriety/Ozhukkam (terrible husband, cue sympathy etc).
      Welcome to my blog, I’ve always enjoyed your comments, so it’s nice to read your thoughts here as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Maybe she just needs a break, maybe she thinks it would be a good idea to do something out of the ordinary for once, maybe she thinks he will be kind because his eyes are kind or whatever. He is obviously trying a pick-up line at the bus stop, and maybe she decides to go along with it because she doesn’t want to go home.”

        Yeah, all of these were also the same excuses I kept thinking of because the movie didn’t convince me that Lakshmi would risk her own safety and trust a stranger who approaches her at a desolated bus stop and starts throwing ‘flowery’ compliments rightaway. Yes we can see that he’s trying a pick-up line, but I’m not sure if Lakshmi exactly picked it up (she says her husband says the same thing to her). I’m not even sure if pick-up lines work with Lakshmi, considering the milieu and her social background. The only thing she seemed flattered about was his offer to make food for her. Therefore, I would assume that thought of getting physically intimate with this person didn’t even cross her mind then. So it did seem like a leap of trust she’s taking at that point, going to a person’s home she barely knows. As I write this, it just struck me that she did show an interest in him, with the way she looked at him during the train commutes. So maybe it does make sense.

        “It’s almost funny that this movie has become so controversial – I think it takes too much care to tell us WHY she is intimate with another man, and her reasons are still within the realm of Propriety/Ozhukkam (terrible husband, cue sympathy etc).”

        Yeah that’s true. Even with all the justification thrown in, folks are outraging & giving lectures on how “two wrongs don’t make a right”. I don’t think a film where a woman who’s sexually attracted to a man outside marriage without a reason will ever see the light of the day. There’s a movie called Uyir (starring Sangeetha & Srikanth) which makes no bones about the fact that the wife tries to have an affair outside marriage simply because she’s dissatisfied with her husband. Though Sangeeta gets a meaty role and some strong lines, she’s indeed treated like a villi by the movie. The movie faced severe backlash for showing the “Tamizh thaikulam in poor light”. On the other hand, the male stars get a free pass when they romance women outside their committed relationships/marriages. In most of these cases they justify it by depicting the second woman as a vamp, or an amoral female, while the stars show no hesitation in dancing with them in duets. Because hey, depiction is not endorsement, but with depiction of “thaikulams” , one shouldn’t mess around.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “She says her husband says the same thing to her” – I read this differently. I thought she was making sure to mention her husband because she may have found this dude somewhat creepy/too friendly. It is a standard defense mechanism that I myself have used, so that’s how I understood it. [Invoking some male in the conversation as partner/husband/boyfriend to ward off attention that causes discomfort]
        Regarding Uyir: I have watched this movie! It contributed to the character assassination of Sangeetha the actress among the Tamil audience, along with another movie by name of Dhanam (which I have watched as well).

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      3. That’s interesting. I actually did suspect the second line ,when she says her husband is picking her up, as the defense. Well now I’m kinda convinced that she did know what she was getting into.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thank you for the welcome! Keep writing, looking forward to actively engage in conversations with you and other commenters here. I’m also gonna seek out other commenters’ (from BR’s commenting community) blogs, if they do have one.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Yes I interpreted the line about her Husband complementing her to just bring up that she is married upfront. Right after the compliment line she also says, my husband is going to pick me up.

        After years, I finally ended up writing a blogpost on Arjun Reddy. I have to figure out the formatting/layout. It is awful, have become a dinosaur already. If you care to read the post with non-existent formatting, here you go: https://chettinadspecial.blogspot.com/2017/11/arjun-reddy-movie-review.html?m=1

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I watched this short film last night and I don’t understand what the hooplah is about. Most people are not enraged if hero stalks a heroine because it is considered normal wooing behavior, but if they make a movie exploring the feelings of women, her reasons to have an extra-marital affair, then people are enraged. Yes, as a movie, it did not have much substance except for bringing this topic up for discussion.

    It is an irony that a movie like Bridges of Madison County go on to win oscars ( Though I didn’t like the movie. Maybe I am not artistic enough:) If a full on feature movie is made in India with this storyline, would our various political parties, gau rakshaks even let a movie like this release in India?

    Liked by 1 person

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