July 8, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by RJ Balaji and N.J. Saravanan
Tamil with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Tamil Nadu, India, the comedy/drama film “Veetla Vishesham” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: When a 50-year-old married woman unexpectedly gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby, members of her family and community have reactions that include embarrassment, fear, scorn and reluctant support.
Culture Audience: “Veetla Vishesham” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching realistic movies about how a later-in-life pregnancy can affect families.
Without being preachy, the comedy/drama “Veetla Vishesham” adeptly depicts issues of ageism and sexism that arise when a 50-year-old married mother unexpectedly gets pregnant. The realistic performances from the movie’s talented cast enliven this story that can be heartwarming and heartbreaking. The movie could have been exploitative or demeaning in the subject matter, but “Veetla Vishesham” admirably handles it with grace and wit.
Directed by RJ Balaji and N.J. Saravanan, “Veetla Vishesham” (which takes place somewhere in Tamil Nadu, India) is a remake of the 2018 Hindi-language film “Badhaai Ho,” which was a big, award-winning hit in India. Amit Ravindrenath Sharma directed “Badhaai Ho,” which was written by Akshat Ghildial by Shantanu Srivastava. (“Badhaai Ho” means “congratulations” in Hindi.) The adapted screenplay for “Veetla Vishesham” (which means “special at home” in Tamil) is credited to RJ Balaji and Friends.
“Veetla Vishesham” sticks very closely to the same story as “Badhaai Ho,” but with a few differences. Many of the same scenes are recreated. Both movies are told from the perspective of a mid-20s man who’s the eldest child of the 50-year-old woman with the unplanned pregnancy. In “Badhaai Ho,” he was an office worker who’s dating a co-worker and contemplating a relocation to the United States. In “Veetla Vishesham,” he’s a schoolteacher who also works with his girlfriend, but the added twist is that her family owns the school, and she is his supervisor.
The gender dynamic of a male employee dating his female boss makes “Veetla Vishesham” a little bit more interesting and complicated than “Badhaai Ho,” in terms of how this work relationship will affect the couple’s personal relationship. In “Veetla Vishesham,” this schoolteacher protagonist is 26-year-old Ilango Krishnan (played by RJ Balaji), who really likes his job and has no intentions or thoughts about leaving India, unlike the protagonist of “Badhaai Ho.”
Ilango (sometimes spelled as Elango) is dating Sowmya (played Aparna Balamurali), who is the school principal. They are happy in the relationship, but they’ve agreed to keep their romance a secret from their families until they both feel comfortable revealing their relationship. (It’s another big difference from “Badhaai Ho,” where the co-worker romance was out in the open with everyone in the couple’s lives.)
However, the people at the school know about the romance, so Ilango and Sowmya are sometimes the subject of gossip at work. Sowmya is intelligent but somewhat insecure over the perception that her career accomplishments are largely because of nepotism. It’s a big reason why Sowmya doesn’t want people to think she is giving Ilango special treatment at work.
Ilango is a biology teacher of students who are about 9 or 10 years. And because “Veetla Vishesham” is a movie about pregnancy, there’s a predictable scene where Ilango asks his students if they know how humans reproduce. He gets very different answers from the students, and all of the answers are incorrect. For example, one boy says that his parents told him babies are made when parents drink milk from the same cup, the mother vomits the milk, and then the baby is born. This scene is the movie’s way of showing that parents are uncomfortable with telling their children the truth about the biology of human conception.
Eventually, Ilango meets Sowmya’s widowed mother (played by Pavitra Lokesh), but Ilango is intimidated because Sowmya’s family is wealthy, while he has a working-class background. In addition, Sowmya’s mother (whose first name is not mentioned in the movie) owns the school where he works. When he first meets Sowmya’s mother, Illango admits to her that he was afraid of meeting her.
That’s because in addition to the differences in social class, Ilango could tell from the way that Sowmya talks about her mother, Sowmya’s mother is very domineering and judgmental. It also makes Ilango uncomfortable when Sowmya tells Ilango that she confides in her mother about her love life. Later in the movie, viewers find out that Sowmya is desperate for her mother’s approval because her mother doesn’t really visit or communicate with Sowmya on a regular basis.
Because of his modest schoolteacher salary, Ilango still lives with his family. Sowmya wants to meet Ilango’s family, but he has been delaying this meeting. Ilango’s easygoing father Unnikrishnan, nicknamed Unni (played by Sathyaraj), has been a longtime ticket taker working for Indian Railways. He is planning to retire in the near future.
Ilango’s mother Krishnaveni, nicknamed Auchu (played by Urvashi), is a mild-mannered homemaker. Ilango’s younger brother Aniruth, nicknamed Ani (played by Visvesh), is about 15 or 16 years old and is a student in high school. Also living in the household is Unni’s outspoken and cranky mother (played by K.P.A.C. Lalitha), a widow who does not have a name in the movie. Unni’s mother often scolds Unni when she thinks that he’s not being a dominant patriarch.
After one of these arguments, Unni and Auchu retreat to their bedroom and are sexually intimate. About 19 weeks later, a concerned Unni has accompanied Auchu to a doctor’s appointment because she’s been feeling sick. They think it might be food poisoning. They’re in for a shock when they find out that Auchu is four months pregnant.
Auchu tells Unni in a private conversation in their car that she wants to keep the baby. Unni’s immediate reaction, once he gets over the shock, is to say he feels too old to start raising a child again. He also wonders if Auchu and the baby will have health problems because of this later-in-life pregnancy. And he worries about what other people in the community will think about him being a father of a young child at an age when most people are expecting him to be a grandfather.
After listening to Unni ramble on about how the pregnancy will affect him, Auchu snaps at him and reminds him that she’s the one who’s pregnant. She also tells him that she won’t change her mind about keeping the baby. Unni makes a sincere apology to Auchu and tells her that it really is her choice, and he promises to support her decision. He still feels a lot of apprehension over how people he knows will react to this pregnancy news.
For whatever reason, Auchu has decided to let Unni tell the rest of the family this news. It leads to some comedic moments where Unni stammers and gets nervous because he doesn’t know how to tell people about this pregnancy. Ilango’s first reaction to this news is embarrassment. Ani’s first reaction is annoyance that the baby might get his bedroom, and he will have to share a bedroom with his grandmother. Unni’s mother reacts with pure disgust because she thinks Auchu is too old to have a baby.
Auchu gets this disgusted reaction from many other people who find out about her pregnancy. Meanwhile, Auchu’s sons Ilango and Ani start to avoid being around her. When her pregnancy starts to show, they often don’t want to be seen in public with her. This shunning deeply hurts Auchu, and it takes a toll on her self-esteem. She starts to become emotionally withdrawn and becomes a lot less talkative.
The pregnancy also affects Ilango’s relationship with Sowmya, because he has been thinking about proposing marriage to her and starting a family with her after they’re married. However, Ilango worries about how Sowmya will feel about having a child who’s close in age to the unborn child who will be Ilango’s youngest sibling. Ilango is also concerned that Sowmya’s snobbish mother will think less of his family, when he knows she already somewhat disapproves of him because he comes from a working-class family.
Social class differences and society’s prejudices against pregnant women in their 50s all come to the forefront in the emotional conflicts that ensue in “Veetla Vishesham.” The movie’s comedy pokes fun at how ridiculously mean-spirited people can be with these prejudices, but the movie doesn’t make light of the damage that these prejudices can cause. And sometimes, the worst damage can come from what family members, not strangers, do to each other.
“Veetla Vishesham” doesn’t excuse any of the awful things that people say or do when expressing these prejudices. The movie shows in no uncertain terms that these prejudices are often rooted in misogyny. Unni and Auchu made this baby together, but Auchu is the one who gets most of the shame and ridicule for this pregnancy. Fortunately, Unni is a kind-hearted husband who respects his wife, but even he has to learn what his boundaries are when it comes to getting criticism from other people about this pregnancy.
What makes “Veetla Vishesham” so interesting to watch is to see how all of the actors stay true to their characters in a manner that looks natural and effortless. Urvashi’s role as Aushu is probably the most difficult to perform because Aushu is fairly quiet for much of the movie, so Urvashi has to convey a lot of emotions through facial expressions and body language. Balaji’s performance as Ilango is also a standout, since he’s the family member who’s the most conflicted about the pregnancy. Balamurali is also very good in her role as Sowmya. There isn’t a bad performance from any of the cast members in “Veetla Vishesham.”
Many times, movies with this subject matter will have character transformations that are abrupt and look very phony. The screenplay and direction of “Veetla Vishesham” make any learning experiences that the characters go through look realistic and not forced. Just like in real life, “Veetla Vishesham” shows that the biggest learning experiences can come from making painful mistakes, and personal growth comes from admitting those mistakes and making an effort to do better.
Zee Studios released “Veetla Vishesham” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 17, 2022.