Accustomed as we are to predatory narratives of lust and vengeance, Sir explores the scope of consideration and tenderness in relationships

Covid-19 altered every single pattern of our collective lives. Particularly so has been our film-viewing habits. Many middle class homes have transformed into mini-theatres since the outbreak of the corona virus a year ago. Of late, authorities have relaxed the pandemic-specific protocols and regulations. Yet domestic spaces continue to have members of families watching flicks inside the four walls. Not many prefer the shows at cinema houses.

Perhaps we are yet to gauge the changes in our visual appetite, whetted by a steady diet of unprecedented fare on OTT platforms — bolder, blunter and steamier. As the censor eagles circle over our heads, one cannot thank these platforms enough for giving us a peek into some of the most creative ventures in cinema. Quite a few of them have bypassed by our conventional tastes. This write-up is of one such experience.

Recently, I watched Sir. directed by Rohena Gera. The 99-minute work was released in the Indian theatres on November 13, 2020. The Hindi movie was initially released in Cannes in 2018. The romantic drama film took its time to reach the Indian shores — after a long sojourn through the European theatre circuit.

I think it took a Netflix release to catapult the film as well as Tilottama Shome to the centre of serious attention. Over the past year, one actor who has been drawing me surely and steadily to watch is Tilottama. She has displayed amazing maturity and composure in Quissa (feted mainly as an Irrfan Khan film on its release in 2013) and her effortless acting as a suave educational consultant in Hindi Medium (2017) with shades of subtle humour.

Woman’s narrative of migrant life

Now, about Tilottama’s commendably taut performance in Sir. It comes with the tagline ‘Is love enough?’. The actress drives home her versatility, loud and clear. A love story which sounds too familiar, but is hearteningly refreshing in its treatment. What’s more, the movie melds new sensibilities and old desires through a nuanced lens. And it was a happy discovery to realize that Sir is from a person who gave us that immensely popular television series Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin, where the stereotyped glamorous heroine image was overturned with such merry irreverence.

Rohena has brilliantly conceived and realized in Ratna, a gritty village woman who is trying to make good in a typical Indian metropolis. For once, a woman — and not a man — leads this migrant’s narrative. She is a young widow who takes off the coloured bangles from her slender wrists as the bus rolls into the village from the city. Tradition cannot shackle her dream to be a fashion designer. Her life as a maid in the apartment of her young employer (Ashwin, played with brilliant restraint, by Vivek Gomber) is followed by a camera that moves tellingly between the main area and marginalized spaces within the posh interiors of an upper middleclass flat.

Each is caught in his/her world of alienation, isolation and wants but is trying to bond while respecting the gaps and differences. Accustomed as we are to predatory narratives of lust and vengeance, Sir explores the possibilities of gentleness, kindness consideration and tenderness in human relationships.

The build-up is patient, slow and sweet. There is no hurried move to resolve any issues. And there is plenty of raw, bitter, unpleasant moments born of class divides. No sugar-coating here. Only the sheer no-holds-barred fight of a woman to survive. Moreover, the maid is in no need of a saviour.

Betrayal of love or romantic idealism?

Ratna is the mistress of her own narrative who asks her master to follow her example in surviving a personal crisis and march on undaunted. No didactic preachiness which often kills the beauty of a budding relationship and the charm of imaginative storytelling. Hard-headed practical sense kind of tempers the sexual and emotional tension boiling within the two.

Is it a betrayal of love or romantic idealism? Is it a submission to social boundaries of class? I felt not as the film ends on a dusky terrace with Ratna looking out onto a city glittering in the nightlights and answers the phone calling out softly “Ashwin”. The master-servant narrative is broken there and love can bloom still on an equal footing.

Written with a lot of care, the script speaks less and shows more. The film totally wins over by the meticulous detailing of certain moments, particularly when she returns to her village for her sister’s marriage and Ashwin’s call comes in while twilight darkens over a lone Ratna. Many a moment, Tilottama reminds you of Smita Patil in the way she eases into the character with her entire being — body and soul. I was totally struck by the way in which her whole body shrinks as a maid to fit into the invisible space she has to inhabit. And the way it blooms every moment she asserts her individual desire and will.

Rohena has brilliantly manoeuvered a storyline which could have easily become a clichéd experience into a memorable moment in Indian cinema. It rewrites the equation of romance tilting the balance in favour of woman’s independence and self-respect. It redefines love not in terms of surrender but in terms of letting be and letting go. And like many a viewer, I too will be rooting for a Tilottama film and a Rohena script with a lot of curiosity and expectation in the days to come.

Janaky Sreedharan

Dr. Janaky Sreedharan is an author, translator, and academic from Kerala

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