There was one part in the movie for which I was truly at the edge of my seat waiting for the scene to conclude, at the same time, not wanting for it to end. When KPAC Lalitha finally stood up for Urvashi against her own daughters, I was brimming with pride, for Tamil cinema got a rare glimpse of female solidarity on screen. The scene was set up very simplistically. One could call it "the wedding scene."
The women are having tea during the wedding when the daughters begin taunting Urvashi for her late pregnancy. Unable to bear this any longer, Lalitha makes her stance clear. Watching Lalitha's stern and restrained affection for Urvashi get undone in a matter of a few seconds was truly special. It defined the ability of the movie to transcend the typical mother-in-law and daughter-in-law stereotype. At that moment I was truly with Lalitha, hanging on to every word she was saying.
Tamil cinema has been putting out really strong women characters for a long while, starting from Revathi in Mouna Ragam to Trisha in Vinnaithandi Varuvaya. These are women that depicted real and messy female characters on screen. However, when it comes to relationships between women, there seem to be some gaps. And this is apparent in the depiction of mother-in-law and sister-in-law relationships, which often lack intricacies. For a nation entrenched in marriage values, it is surprising that this important and often central relationship has been lost in Tamil cinema.
Yet, I can't seem to overlook the other rather rich source of media that does deal with this relationship – Tamil serials. The scene is vivid in my memory. The table is set. Dinner is served. It is served by one woman, youngish in age and seemingly flustered. Another woman watches her serve, older and stern – the monster-in-law. The maamiyar/marumagal relationship has had its nuances in how it is portrayed best in Tamil serials. Their relationship is portrayed as one of a power struggle to claim authority over the man (husband/son).
Plots often center around tales of revenge between the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law. While movies might have moved further from this trope, Veetla Vishesham revisits and reworks this familiar stereotype. The relationship between KPAC Lalitha and Urvashi is central to the plot, which humorously parodies the original stereotype.
This movie thoroughly parodies the classic Tamil soap with the use of loud set pieces and peppy background score that keeps drawing attention. A stellar example is the scene where there is a 'competition' of sorts between KPAC Lalitha and Urvashi as they eat mangoes that Sathyaraj bought for them.
While Urvashi comments that it is a so-so tasting fruit, KPAC Lalitha loudly proclaims that it is a brilliant fruit and that Urvashi's standards can never be pleased. But this was just the beginning of poking fun at the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law trope. The movie really starts when it begins to transform this trope for the better. KPAC Lalitha's transformation in particular stands out.
She starts off on the well-trodden road of bashing her daughter-in-law for never being enough. Never enough for her son. Never enough in doing household chores. Simply never enough. Urvashi is seen as a glitch in the matrix of Lalitha's otherwise perfect family. She even goes on to say that the only sin her late husband committed was getting her son (Sathyaraj) married to Urvashi.
All hell breaks loose when she comes to know about Urvashi's pregnancy. She lashes out along the lines of "is this the behavior of a family girl (kudumba ponnu)?" "Did you just let go of your shame into the air?" This scene in the movie really brings out the characteristics of internalized misogyny. It is only because she dressed like this that they ended up in this seemingly awkward situation. It is only because she spoke out loud instead of keeping quiet that this scenario had to happen.
But what changed the plot was the wedding scene. It really was the make-or-break moment of the film. Watching KPAC Lalitha support Urvashi against her daughters' comments really resonated with me. It made me aware of the female friendships in my life and how those kinds of relationships are so scarce in Tamil cinema.
Female solidarity and the complexities of female relationships that occur in reality are overlooked in cinema, a universe that often takes up a male point of view. This point of view has reinforced stereotypes such as the inevitable competition between women. These stereotypes have made it difficult for female viewers to relate to the female characters of most movies. This male gaze often ignores many facets of female friendships to highlight the supposed ego between women.
Internalized misogyny is a tricky thing. It's more than just women hating women. It also speaks about the generational inheritance of the idea that there is always competition between women. KPAC Lalitha's character defines internalized misogyny in Veetla Vishesham and, in that same stride, redefines relationships between women for the better. Her character is interesting because she progresses from being that of a monster-in-law to breaking the very stereotypes that held her up in the first half.
In Veetla Vishesham we see what begins as two femininities merge into one large happy solidarity. And KPAC Lalitha reigns over this transformation.
Movies like this go on to define and redefine how women relationships are portrayed on screen. And KPAC Lalitha's character is one such stark example of reformation and change. Characters like that of Lalitha's unveil the lack of logic in stereotypes such as the famous maamiyar/marumagal trope, and by doing so, opens up cinema to real and lived-in complex female relationships.