Readers Write In #328: Sir

Posted on January 18, 2021

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(by Anuj Chakrapani)

I don’t know how attentive I am when watching movies, but if I am not wrong, I have just watched an entire movie without knowing the male protagonist’s name. We know him as “Sir” throughout; he happens to be a man in his late twenties (or early thirties maybe), and lives in a plush sun-kissed apartment in Mumbai overlooking the Arabian Sea. He is called “Sir” by Ratna (a wonderfully restrained Tillotama Shome), who does the cooking, the cleaning and even triples up occasionally as his trusted secretary (the scene in which she picks up a telephone and effortlessly fibs about his whereabouts is epic). The movie is told, almost entirely, from Ratna’s perspective. For several moments in the initial portions of the movie, the camera looks over her shoulder as she walks from one room to another with a spring in her step. It’s as if we are processing the world through her eyes. Later on, when a friend learns about the lovers, he points out what this could mean for her, asking him to let go. When Ratna herself confronts her lover towards the end, she walks away saying she doesn’t want to earn the curse of his Mom, nor does she want to get tortured by her in-laws. She doesn’t care what separation means for him and his feelings; it is the right thing for her. This movie is about how her perception of their relationship. So, fittingly, we learn his name only in the end, when she whispers it on a long-distance call in what is a bitter-sweet moment.

But that’s not the only unique aspect about Rohena Gera’s movie. I was impressed by her refreshing take on the rural-urban divide, and the eternal morality battle between the city and the village. Ratna is from a remote village, a woman widowed in her teens, and who is treated like an untouchable during auspicious occasions back home. But her life changes every time she travels back to Mumbai. She gets to wear bangles, can taste meat, and even shakes a leg during a festival celebration. For someone whose assets are wrapped in a piece of cloth and contained in a snack box, Ratna is a brave lady (the word itself has its brief moment in the spotlight in a funny conversation). She has to provide for her sister as well as her in-laws. And so, the city becomes her gateway to emotional and financial freedom, and her license to dream (she hopes to become a fashion designer some day). Filmmakers often fall into the trap of characterizing cities as the place where simpletons and innocents arrive and get spoiled by its villainous inhabitants; not here though. Ratna’s life is changing and for the better.

Speaking of cities, the movie offers a slightly uncommon glimpse of Mumbai. Despite the crowds, the city doesn’t appear claustrophobic. We see numerous shots of the city from a distance, especially from the top. We see more of the famed BST buses than the local trains. We see the markets where you can find everything, and bargain for anything. There’s almost no Bollywood presence, nor any Dabbawallahs, yet there’s the Ganpati festival minus the stampede-waiting-to-happen crowds. And yes, there’s even the customary Kalanirnay calendar hung on the wall in the servant’s room. Whether it is to fill the Mumbaikar’s hearts with nostalgia, or to pique the interest of those unfamiliar with this city, Gera checks all the right boxes.

At its core though, the movie is about the emotional bond between two individuals. Gera’s message is that regardless of whether you are in the upper strata of society, or at the other end of the spectrum, life is messy and love is complicated.  And for a complicated love story, you don’t need a third angle, nor do you need a contrived plot. All you need is two warm characters. We don’t even need to know their names.