Thamizh Talkies: Imperfect lives and ill-formed opinions
The writer talks about how director Sarjun's short Lakshmi has come in for so much debate over the right and wrong of actions of the lead character
The number of views has crossed 1.2 million. The feminist and anti-feminist voices that marginally support and highly oppose the content, respectively, seem to increase with every hour. Words like sexual emancipation and women’s lib are being discussed in news channel talk shows. All this hullabaloo is not even for a feature film! Director Sarjun's short film, Lakshmi, with a running time of less than twenty minutes, has turned Twitter and Facebook into a tornado of opinions. Released on filmmaker Gautham Menon’s YouTube platform, Ondraga Entertainment, Lakshmi has either struck the right chord or rubbed the wrong side, depending on which side of the story you wish to take. In a way, this is good because Lakshmi is not ignored by us, which is the opposite of what the eponymous lead character of the film goes through.
I liked the narrative and the fact that the director was not taking sides. The thin line between right and wrong, if at all there is anything called right or wrong, between regret and sated emotions, between what’s okay for a man to indulge vs what’s okay, or not, for a wife, come across quite poignantly in Lakshmi. A man, in the context of a regular middle-class marriage, still remains a MAN, whereas a woman’s identity becomes that of a WIFE, a MOTHER, and she is expected to toe the line, to live in an unequal marriage, to do her 'duties'. The extramarital escapade is a mere peg, a route, a window to fresh air, but to Lakshmi, it represents a world beyond mere sexual gratification.
As a character, Lakshmi is not a women’s lib candidate at all. She is a regular girl as she describes herself to the artist who introduces her to Bharathiyar’s poetry apart from art, music, and colour. The mundaneness of Lakshmi's life is shown in black and white, and her brief encounter with the artist (which in her own words she is unsure if she even regrets) plays out in colour, as a flashback. Being treated like a voiceless person for the most part by her average husband, Lakshmi experiences what it feels like to be treated right, to be treated as an equal, to be cherished as a person even before the man ventures to touch her. She experiences sex as an art form, and these bits are shown aesthetically without much fuss, but with all attention to detail, which tells us that her consent is taken before intimacy. When all her husband wants from Lakshmi are mechanical movements - on the mattress and out of it - the artist she befriends on the local train, makes her see herself with new eyes. And Lakshmi experiences her new world with enough self-doubt, enough remorse even but no guilt.
So, a woman choosing to have a fling, partly motivated by the fact that her husband also has some secret friendship going on, has come to stir up a social media storm. Lakshmi reminded me of Shyamaprasad’s Orey Kadal (Malayalam) which has the bored housewife Meera Jasmine falling for her neighbour, the quintessential artist, played by Mammotty. That film was hailed for its sensitivity and portrayal. Lakshmi, played by Lakshmipriyaa Chandramouli, brings in a similar strength, honesty and eagerness to that which Meera Jasmine brought to Orey Kadal. That this short film has come in for so much debate over the right and wrong of Lakshmi’s actions, with accusatory fingers pointed at the director for trying to influence housewives of Tamil Nadu (!) is amusing. Human beings carry in them all kinds of stories. Who are we to judge the actions of another person when we are not in their shoes? This is a story and must be seen as one. By protesting against the portrayal of circumstances or actions taken by Lakshmi, we are playing judge. Why can we not be just a witness to Lakshmi’s journey and try to be understanding, and if unable to, forget about her and move on with our imperfect lives?
The film is well made - with colour-coded shots, apt music and verses that convey Lakshmi’s catharsis aptly and gently. The Tamil lyrics by Siva Ananth addresses Lakshmi as a star whose only fault is that she belongs in another man’s sky - she may run towards an eclipse now, but she should not forget the time when she shone bright; she must retain it in her heart and jump with joy every day. The shining bright is not necessarily related to her fling. That is just a catalytic moment. That Tamil poem which plays out as BGM conveys Lakshmi’s character curve. Is sexual freedom the only progress a woman can have? No. Is this film only about Lakshmi’s sexual freedom? No. The film is also about her striking a friendship with a man, a connection deeper than the physical, where she is valued for who she is, not taken for granted and cherished for her self, beyond her body.
I leave these Tamil lines here -- used in the film -- for those who can appreciate the depth that this short film conveyed to me.
Mella Chiri Mouna Thaaragaiye
Veroruvanin Vaanil Olirnthathandri
Veroru Kuttramum Unn Kanakkil Saeraathu
Graganathai noakki née odalaam
Aanaal marakaadhey kanmaniye
Née milirindha innnaalai
Manadhil kondu gummiyadi