The first few minutes of Lakshmi is drained out of colours, just like the life of its lead character. We see the eponymous Lakshmi (an effective Lakshmi Priya Chandramouli) go about her day. The monotony sets in; even more so as her husband rolls on top of her every night without a second glance at her. There is also a hint that the husband might be involved with another woman. Hues starts to colour Lakshmi’s life as she meets an attractive man on the train. She finds herself smiling involuntarily, indulging in the guilty joy that unsolicited attention provides. Until a bandh drives their paths closer. Charmed by the man, Lakshmi ends up in his house and eventually in his bed.
The ending of ‘Lakshmi’ is beautiful. Aided by some brilliant music and a beautiful poem, we see her walking back into her usual life. She stops taking the train — her connection with the night of indulgence. As the voiceover says she ‘runs back to the eclipse’ with a memory of the night where she was aglow, even if it was in the sky of a different man. The only flaw that ‘Lakshmi’ does is explain herself when we don’t really need it. But considering the brickbats the film has received, I understand why the filmmaker chose to have it.
The short film has been thrown under a barrage of criticism and a list of accusations: for justifying an extra-marital affair, for equating women empowerment with sexual independence. Rather than justifying extra-marital relationships, what Lakshmi has done is show the difference in treatment meted out to women and men who err. As Sowmya Rajendran rightly asks in her piece in The News Minute, where is the outrage about Sindhu Bhairavi, Agni Natchathiram, Gopurangal Saivathillai and a list of other movies that had central men characters with extra-marital relationships? Not that this disparity is new. Sathileelavathi has a character that says, “Veetla salikarathu nu than avan velila poran” (He goes out only when he is bored with what he gets at home), when Leela shares that her husband is having a mistress, making it Leela’s fault. Can we apply the same logic in Lakshmi’s case as well?
The controversy around Lakshmi makes us rethink how we see women on-screen. After years of seeing a woman be perfect on screen or be termed a ‘villi’, the shades of grey has caused unnecessary outrage. What people fail to understand is that at the end of the day, it is a story. A story of a middle-class woman, frustrated by her unhappy marriage, falters and gives in to temptation. Maybe that’s why Sarjun made the husband’s character get involved with another woman. It wasn’t particularly necessary, the indifference Lakshmi suffered from was pretty evident. Possibly he realised that indifference is not enough reason for a woman to err; so that audience can forgive Lakshmi easier. So that they can reason saying, ‘the husband had an affair as well’. Baby steps.