Veetla Vishesham Movie Review: Urvashi stands out in this well-localised remake
It’s fascinating how the script, under a duration of two hours, explores so many heavy topics with a nimble hand
How do you critique remakes? How do you resist the temptation to compare adaptations with the original, especially when the said original, Badhaai Ho (2018), has been as widely celebrated and dissected? And in any case, what do we, who have seen the original, seek in an adaptation? I, for one, don’t really care for a frame-by-frame remake. Instead, I seek an adaptation experience that while, bearing its own identity, also reminds me of the joys of the original. Given that there are no plot-related surprises, I couldn’t wait for the pregnancy reveal in Veetla Vishesham, so the story can take off. But even by then, I had enjoyed a couple of early touches—like that small exchange between Unnikrishnan (Sathyaraj) and wife, Krishnaveni (Urvashi), in which she refuses to permit him to dye his beard black. It’s an idea that returns later. Sathyaraj, with his white beard, feels a tad older than Badhaai Ho’s Gajraj Rao, and I enjoyed that these little chats show cognisance of this. It’s also why that whole ‘thatha’ scene works as well too, and Sathyaraj, of course, is comfortable with such humour.
Directors: RJ Balaji and Saravanan
Cast: Urvashi, Sathyaraj, RJ Balaji, Aparna Balamurali
And yet, Veetla Vishesham is truly Urvashi’s film. She doesn’t speak a lot in the film, but that’s a reflection of the role her Krishnaveni plays in a lower middle-class family. The actor is tremendous in how she communicates much innocence and maternal love, but never at the cost of coming across as naïve or silly. She’s her own person and not one to bend to coercion. You see these opposites co-existing throughout the film. One moment, she’s afraid of social stigma and the criticism that could come from her own family… She’s shaking and nervous and unsure of herself. But watch when her husband, Unni, tries to bend her to his will—even if in loving, delicate ways—and you will see hints of an inner lioness. It’s through the relationship of Unni and Krishnaveni that this film really breathes. There’s also a beautiful dichotomy in how Krishnaveni loves and respects Unni a lot but doesn’t make much of calling him ‘vaayaa-poyaa’. Each time Krishnaveni disappears from the film for a while, you see it suffering.
Fair play, however, to RJ Balaji (playing Elango) for observing much restraint in this film—especially considering that he is a well-established name in loud humour. This must have been a rather brave choice—this decision to avoid the temptation of engaging in dialogue-oriented humour. In the big reveal scene in the family, watch Elango struggle to say anything. He stares at his dad, Unni. He then turns to stare at his mother, Krishnaveni. He does this several times before eventually storming out—and it works! Any time any scene worked in this film for me, it was impossible for me not to notice the splendid, almost unselfish work Urvashi was doing to make everyone shine. A great example is that grandmother (KPAC Lalitha) monologue scene, in which she gives a dressing down to her daughters, while praising her daughter-in-law, Krishnaveni. There’s a lot happening in the scene. The grandmother goes on and on, and on some level, her monologue does feel rather selfish—which is understandable, I suppose. Sathyaraj runs towards them, trying to broker peace. Meanwhile, two other elderly women, his sisters, are standing there taking in the heat of all the diatribe. But all along, it’s Urvashi in the background selling the scene. It's her Krishnaveni, moving from shock to surprise to unexpected feelings of gratitude and catharsis… Her tears don’t stop, and somewhere, they give birth to ours.
I enjoyed that directors RJ Balaji and Saravanan don’t lose sight of this film being an exploration of the dynamics of a lower middle-class family. Unni takes great pride in protecting a healthy mango for his family. His idea of coveting his wife is showing off his Smule exploits. There are so many examples of this exploration. For this reason, I liked the idea of having Sowmya (Aparna Balamurali) negotiate many pesky inhabitants of the railways colony before she can get some private time with Elango. The execution itself might be a tad over the top, but the intention in this film is to try and keep its many developments aligned with the subject matter. This is, of course, why Elango is a biology teacher.
This film is about many things, and that’s indeed the success of Badhaai Ho as well. It’s fascinating how the script, under a duration of two hours, explores so many heavy topics with a nimble hand. Veetla Vishesham too is about the social stigma of an elderly couple getting pregnant, but it’s also about women taking control of their bodies. This is a bit of a peripheral theme in the original, but here, this idea gets drummed in a few times. Krishnaveni, for instance, establishes that feminine strength isn’t about staying away from medical help; it’s about making decisions that she is comfortable with. The film also speaks of the folly of deifying mothers and pressurising them, actively or otherwise, into staying away from their many needs including sexual. This is why Sowmya’s question to Elango is so important. “Do you think wearing jeans and sunglasses makes you progressive?”
And yet, it’s a film with not too much finesse. There’s a grating loudness about it, and the score doesn’t make things easier. I wish there were longer moments of quiet reflection in the film, and I wish that Urvashi and Sathyaraj had been allowed more time to breathe and talk and contemplate. In fact, my most favourite moments of this film are of quiet conversation, rich with emotion. Like Krishnaveni advising Elango about his love-life. Or Elango casually slipping in an ‘aunty’ while speaking with Sowmya’s mother. Or Unni dropping a loaded ‘sorry’ to his son, Elango, who himself is on the verge of apologising. If I came out wishing more such writing had existed in Veetla Vishesham, it’s only because I value this film for communicating some useful ideas without labouring too hard. When a film shows heart, you can excuse a loss of finesse, I think.