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.