‘Sairat’ Is a Reminder of How Delusional We Indians Really Are

Nagraj Manjule’s new film ‘Sairat’ is a lesson in subversion for popular cinema writes Ranjib Mazumder

5 min read
Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru in <i>Sairat</i>

Note: This article contains spoilers about Sairat

The first hour of Sairat offers us glimpses of first love that we’ve been used to watching in many films. The smooth entry of the protagonists, the slow motion trance of romance, the sweeping movement of camera, and music, highly operatic and harmoniously grand, signalling the occurrence of something epic.

Sairat is the second film of Nagraj Popatrao Manjule who shot to overnight eminence with his first film, Fandry, the angst riddled take on the grave realities of caste in Western India. Naturally, his second film carries a certain amount of expectations.

The romance of Parshya and Archie, a low-caste boy and an upper-caste girl in rural Maharashtra, the milieu that Manjule clearly understands, though very mainstream, has beautifully detailed moments, enough to induce a wide-eyed grin on your face.

In the beginning, Parshya has the making of a stalker, following Archie, the one girl in the village who turns his fast-forward life into a slow-motion spell. But Manjule shows his restraint by making consent a pre-requisite for Parshya to go ahead. Archie, on the other hand, is like a body of free water, unaware of limits and customs, flowing with a convinced passion we rarely see in our heroines.

It is Archie who provides a refreshing heft to the proceedings of the young romance, by being the one on top. She stares at him openly in the class, so deep and for so long that he breaks into sweat and seeks a way out. She even rebukes Parshya for calling his friend ‘langda’. She rides her brother’s bullet and her father’s tractor, she is the one who reaches his house to invite him over to her farm, and finally, it is she who utters the magic words, ‘I love you’.

Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru in <i>Sairat</i>
Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru in Sairat

In the sea of these intoxicating, all-consuming feelings, both the boy and the girl get one song each, a duet when the love blossoms together, energized by Ajay-Atul’s extravagantly youthful score. The fourth song is a dance number, all too realistically shot, just before the couple is about to kiss in a car, shrouded in darkness, away from the booming party.

As any star-crossed love story, the couple gets caught, all hell breaks loose and we begin to realize how Manjule was actually fattening us for sacrifice. The first half as it turns out, is essentially a parody of what we have come to expect out of love stories, far removed from actuality.

Sairat, from the very first frame, is conscious of its reality. Beginning with a cricket match in which a saffron clad Guruji appears as one of the guests, Manjule is clear about the tropes he wishes to challenge, as his appearance as a quirky commentator entails. Throughout the chimes of exhilaration and romance, the film starts putting bricks of caste and class split, finally revealing its crudest avatar when the crisis starts.
Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru in <i>Sairat</i>
Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru in Sairat

When the couple finally flees to a city after a series of murky chases and bloody fights, they get stripped of any romantic notions, and thrown into the grimy earth. The love that was celebrated by roaring music turns silent, the physics of splashing water dies, the enchantment of holding hands vanishes, and the all-encompassing takes of camera are subdued by a cinéma vérité style.

“Women are the Dalits of the Dalits,” said Manjule in a recent interview. Parshya and Archie, the young lovers are played by Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru, two newcomers with a surprising command over their craft, but Manjule is clearly in favour of Archie’s journey.

In the first half, Archie is a fearless girl, and in the second half, all her powers get taken away, and she is being made conscious of her time and place. Manjule tells us how her power and fearlessness in her hometown was thanks to the pedigree she hails from, the father she had, the brother she was tied to. In the new city, without those associations, she gets reduced to a mere nobody, even challenged by a child with a TV remote. She can’t cook, she can barely stand the idea of using a public toilet and a makeshift bathroom, and she isn’t aware of monetary containment. And she misses her home and the privileges that came with it. It’s a long journey.
A poster of <i>Sairat</i>
A poster of Sairat

After showing us majestic moods of ardour, the film tells us togetherness is not what filmy romances have been telling us for so long, The couple in a new city struggles with finding a roof over their head, making ends meet, and dealing with bouts of insecurity.

The film lays the class divide bare throughout, in incessant scenes, their love can barely thwart the age-old barrier. Parshya was poor, and in the new city, he is again poor, but Archie has dragged herself down from the honoured balcony of her home to a rough ground. She can’t drink water from a jug, which Parshya can. Sleeping under a quilt, she is bothered about its smell unlike him. Parshya, too, is aware of how she is out of his league, despite fighting all odds to be together. He gets taken over by distrust because she might prefer her boss over him. Imagine Mani Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey (remade in Hindi as Saathiya), awakened by the colours of caste.

The two finally make a life in the new city and a toddler, and we’re made to expect that their love is finally on the due course of bliss. And then again, a tight slap on the cheeks of our great anticipations, and a deafening silence to wake us up.

Nagraj Manjule with his team on location shooting <i>Sairat</i>
Nagraj Manjule with his team on location shooting Sairat

Hindi cinema can learn many things from Manjule’s film. If you just take the first happy half, it teaches you how to create an intoxicating love story with an eye for details in a lived-in reality, something we have forgotten in our pristine, designer romances. If you take the film as a whole, there is a lesson on subversion, on how to take the mainstream route to drive home a bigger and more uncomfortable issue with a gut-punch.

In the brouhaha of ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’ and ‘Incredible India’, Sairat is a reminder of the ghastly ills of the omnipresent caste divide that we have been brushing under the carpet, slyly and steadily. It tells us how delusional we really are.

(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. Follow him on Twitter: @RanjibMazumder)

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