Sairat: The Shadows Tell Our Tale

Published: Mon, 05/30/2016 - 13:08 Updated: Tue, 06/14/2016 - 10:39

The director makes and breaks our expectations of conventional character sketches and story arcs. Sairat is lyrical, epical, eternal, a masterpiece
Sonali Ghosh Sen Delhi

Filmmaker Jean Renoir once said, “A director only makes one movie in his life. And then he breaks it into pieces and makes it all over again.” Nagraj Manjule goes a step further. He takes just one plot -- his own life and experiences, and breaks it over and over again to reveal the many facets of his Dalit community -- their struggle, triumphs and tragedies. In the process, his body of work has evolved constantly -- starting with his debut short film Pistulya, the critically acclaimed Fandry, and now Sairat.

Marathi film Sairat is a deceptively simple love story of a fisherman’s son, village team cricket captain and totally in love Parshya (Akash Thosar) with the strong-willed daughter of the village politician, Archie (Rinku Rajguru). It is a story of star crossed love that we have seen in countless movies and you can be lulled into believing that Sairat will offer more of the same. But you go along for the ride, because the director takes every Bollywood cliché and then remoulds it into a refreshing love story -- be it the slow motion songs with just the right amount of clumsiness to make you believe in young love, dream sequences that subvert the dream girl stereotype, the hero’s young friends who make even subplots feel like they could be stories in themselves and a heroine who drives the romance, literally and metaphorically.

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Cinematographer Sudhakar Reddy transforms rural Maharashtra into a setting worthy of a classic Romeo-Juliet story, where village bawlis (step wells) become sun dappled witnesses to secret rendezvous, the lovers are silhouetted against fabulous sunsets, and a river becomes an intimate haven and an escape from the village.  Music composers Ajay-Atul, fill in the emotional punctuations through their soaring soundtrack, which makes you feel the happiness and heartbreak, the music that only young love can hear. 

Most of the cast and the lead pair have never acted in a movie before. That is why even the most trite scenes became fresh and innocent, because 15-year-old  Rinku Rajguru has not yet learnt the jaded coyness of most mainstream movie debutants and thank God for that -- because her Archie comes across as strong, independent, confident, yet vulnerable and real. Akash Thosar’s half boy, half man adds just the right amount of awkward appeal to his character.

Cinematographer Sudhakar Reddy transforms rural Maharashtra into a setting worthy of a classic Romeo-Juliet story, where village bawlis become sun dappled witnesses to secret rendezvous, the lovers are silhouetted against fabulous sunsets, and a river becomes an intimate haven and an escape from the village. Music composers Ajay-Atul, fill in the emotional punctuations through their soaring soundtrack, which makes you feel the happiness and heartbreak, the music that only young love can hear  

Their love story will eventually head for the parental opposition, clash and elopement, but it all unfolds at the pace the director wants you to see. Nagraj Manjule quietly sneaks in the dichotomy of fantasy and real, taking us into a dreamscape of the young lovers but against the backdrop of the political ambitions of Archie’s father. Love letters are exchanged in college, where the professor is also casually slapped by Prince, Archie’s brother. He reels in the audience deftly, giving us moments of levity, within a longer, more serious narrative. For instance, even when the reality of caste equations surface, they do after the most enjoyable, trippy party song I have heard in a long time.

The director makes and breaks our expectations of conventional character sketches and story arcs. Here, Archie’s story is important, because, she, being a Patil, has the stronger voice in the power equation, going on for centuries. The lovers’ eventual chase and escape is made possible because Archie refuses to back down in front of her father -- a rare role reversal where the eventual escape is in the hands of the pistol-wielding heroine and not the hero.

The director uses that artificial break -- The Interval -- to move from reel fantasy to something real. He now begins the story from where others end  -- the epilogue of the ‘Happily Ever After’. It is a difficult transition, yet real and relatable. The shift in the narrative to an urban environment is a shift from childhood, as Archie and Parshya land up in a city with no money and no friends. It is also the shift in class equations for the young couple. Here, the bold and spirited Archie seems out of her depth -- staying in a slum, creating a life anew takes its toll. Archie, the entitled one in the village, has to suffer the small humiliations of even being powerless to use the TV remote. Cracks are bound to appear and they do, eating insidiously into the concept of love that these two fought and sacrificed for.

Sairat is powerful, because it gives stories that have been told for centuries a fresh voice. Sairat is powerful, because it shows us that what we have seen before need not clash with what we need to see. Sairat is one man re-examining his life, his identity again and again, and his films are more evocative, more powerful, because of that

The style of storytelling also shifts dramatically -- where earlier there was lushness of frames, of uplifting music, of a narrative of innocence, it now turns into the world-weary drudgery of life. The city closes in and confines the two and you can almost feel their claustrophobia as the omnipresent background gives way to city sounds or sometimes just silence. The camera moves silently indoors or tracks the two stealthily outdoors. We feel discomfited by Parshya’s hidden jealousy erupting into a fight with Archie -- an indelible image of a couple bickering, that we might have seen many times on the streets of our city.

Then there’s the image of Archie in the driver’s seat again, but, this time in a sari, with the same spark of independence that we saw in the village. The director keeps a tight rein on our emotions and that’s why when the final denouement happens, it leaves you numb, just numb, for a few minutes.

Good films make you curious -- you want to know how it all ends, but Manjule’s storytelling goes beyond that -- it is alive, immediate and eternal. At the heart of his films are issues that are part of our collective DNA -- class, gender, caste inequality. However, he presents these issues without sermonising, without any superficial explanations, letting them establish a rhythm of their own in the audiences.

Sairat is powerful, because it gives stories that have been told for centuries a fresh voice. Sairat is powerful, because it shows us that what we have seen before need not clash with what we need to see. Sairat is one man re-examining his life, his identity again and again, and his films are more evocative, more powerful, because of that. 

 

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The director makes and breaks our expectations of conventional character sketches and story arcs. Sairat is lyrical, epical, eternal, a masterpiece
Sonali Ghosh Sen Delhi

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