Sometimes, all it takes is the first few minutes of the movie to know if you’re to witness a masterpiece unfold or not. Take for instance The Godfather that opens with Brando’s Corleone in his tastefully lit cabin didactically talking about the virtue of friendship to a man who’s come to him for justice , overseeing his daughter’s wedding celebrations happening beneath. These first few minutes flesh out Vito Corleone from the pages of the boundscript-making it a bible for aficionados for time to come -giving us thus a memorable protagonist- from who’s shoulder we continue to watch the story.
Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat achieves exactly this, as the opening credits roll out to the running commentary of a local cricket tournament in the backdrop. We start sensing the spirit of the village even before the screen comes alive-as to how it sounds- with rustic jibes and roars from percussions inundating the palpable tension of the local team’s run chase; which seems to be an uphill cause with its captain(hero) gone amiss.
Cut to the chase, we’re shown the captain scurrying surreptitiously through the fields behind a speeding vehicle, that gets into a palatial house, islanded by the fields. From the vehicle gets down the “object of his desire”(devotion rather), whose face is not visible to him and us yet. He ekes out his tenure in his greed to see “her” face from the peripheries of her house, as his teammate comes to remind him of the match.
He’s in no hurry to save his team or play the sport, the whole village seems to be musing on with frenzied excitement. He’s blinded in his preoccupation- his own stardust laden sport.
He eventually does come to the ground and tramples over the bowling team. But he sleepwalks through his innings with his mind racing elsewhere. Afterall, this was not trophy he had set his eye on.
Bhitargaon is an parochial place with naive residents, who are not so naive about the caste system that regulates them. The lower caste constitutes a distant demography that the upper caste would solicitously provide for; without letting to partake.
Archana is the village top gun’s daughter, well endowed and from the upper caste. She’s even got a sprawling bungalow named after her. While Parshya is a fisherman’s son, with a hut to reside in and very modest fortunes;nurturing a not so modest dream.
He’s this moth attracted to the light- his love and destination-entirely oblivious to the detrimental effect the unison beholds. Sairat chronicles the lightmoth’s wild journey towards light and the light’s pursuit towards the lightmoth.
Love story of a rich girl and a poor boy set in the backdrop of a caste ridden village- not the most refreshing of plots one might think; for this is one lake that everyone has drunk from since the conjuring of celluloid romance in Indian context.But Sairat despite being constituted out of the same raw materials is a creature of its own.
Take for instance the sequence that Parshya ambushes the common well that Archie and her friends seem to having a gala time in. His jump into the well is the culmination point of the invigorating “Yad Lagla” song. In a state of trance, he walks through the village; circumventing in his head around her like a ardent devotee around his idol.
Wet he comes out, drenched in fulfillment. As he passes by her; she feels the first butterfly flap in her belly; their first unspoken conversation.The palpable tension and the resultant glance they exchange for the first time as he leaves the well is stuff that poetry is made of.
The film breaks ground in terms of the gender stereotype. The girl is the man in the relation. She serenades around the village in her enfield, when she isn’t intimidating the hoi polloi from the driver seat of her tractor. But its not just at a surface level, that she happens to be the male ego to the relation. She’s forthcoming to compensate for his lack of chivalry. She chides him when he makes fun of his friend’s disability. She takes the big decisions for the two of them, when he’s caught between being indecisive and incapable. She even saves his ass a couple of times.
All these little traits go on to lend a beautiful dimension to her character-that of dignity-which we don’t often come across in movies these days, without even going near the feminist bugle once.
The guy is more than content being the working bee. He quickly adjusts to a given ecosystem and domesticates to it like second nature.He mops the floor without an iota of contemplation. He sets up the kitchen and lightens up at the sight of grocery. He’s the possessive end of the relation-saddled in his own fear and insecurities- its in him that we get the disputes between the two.
The movie makes its field notes from the other end of the “happily ever after” part of love stories. So what happens when the goddess descends from her abode and chooses the modest life of her seeker to be hers, to only make him feel less disparate. Would he treat her with the reverence that made her come to him or would he mortify her to slay his inner demons?
Given the slum settings and the lurking sex offenders, any lesser movie would’ve been tempted to resort to “pain porn” to shock and shake, like having a sub-plot involving a graphic rape sequence or a blood spattering murder shown in painful detail, but what we get here are consequential conflicts, inner mostly.
The movie’s latter half is a fly on the wall account of this and more. The they both go through extended periods of taciturn. The wildness in their love has fizzled out, teaching them to hate each other as much. Hatred brings about indifference and indifference breeds in it insecurity.She’s tempted to regret and he’s left with fears that look bigger than the last time.
It’s through this phase that the movie sets itself apart in a league of its own. Their travel through this patch resiliently and the sweet redemption that ensues told through bullish montages, got me smiling widely; even if only for a short while.
The movie does end sadistically like every other cult movie before it, with irony wielding its serrated edges, literally and figuratively. Its almost like there’s an unwritten blueprint for love stories to turn cults. First establish external conflicts; followed by internal conflicts and appoint fate to have the last laugh. Its a bad habit to paint a canvas this beautiful with an endearing tale of romance, to only tear it apart in the end.Ek Dujhe Ke liye started this and Sairat toes this path like a faithful disciple.
I let out a sigh of relief as the movie began to play with subtitles, for it was a marathi movie and I barely knew the language. On my way back home I realised as an afterthought that-after an hour into the movie- the bottom of the screen playing the subtitles had gone off my viewing perimeter subconsciously. It was not like I understood the language any better,just the fact that the movie spoke to in a language I knew-that of cinema; to which I doff my hat.