‘Observations’ on ‘SAIRAT’

In SAIRAT, Nagaraj Manjule is all over the place – but in a damn good way. He gives homage to almost every style of craft exploited through the medium of cinema in the genre of romance and societal/parental opposition; in the milieu of the Montagues and the Capulets: And he does that at different points in his 2 hour 53 minute ode; as an audience one might get a bit frustrated at the rhythm with which his almost-operatic film operates, but the end result as one walks out of a cinema-hall or when one switches off the telly, is the enormity of emotions that are a result of a rich wedding between the screen and one’s personal experiences of life.

Sairat’s like a pizza you order on any pizza web-site; you know, one that has less of jalapenos to the left; more of onions to the right; hell, a plethora mushrooms or onions or what have you on the entire pizza. You choose, and you get it: Here, the director has arranged the permutations, and you have to go with that. You got to devour and experience it the way he has laid out the crust, and the toppings. And it’s in these toppings that Manjule subtly but superlatively puts in all the Dalit references, the upper-lower caste unending fight, the hypocrisy, the Hindu-Muslim unity [the male lead’s neighbor belongs to the Muslim community], and then, the ones who are unluckier within the unlucky group.

This is in complete contrast to the director’s ‘Fandry’, where it was one flavor all over; that of the pain of oppression. Manjule is in love with Hindi cinema and its masala-esque contribution to the Indian traditional story-telling, and it is more than evident in the first and fore-most important tribute to it through films like Mughal-E-Azam—in terms of the ‘royalty’ difference; at parallel is the tribute to the life-buoy fresh ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ [QSQT];one can add ‘Betaab’ or even ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ to the list,  and finally, to Mani Ratnam’s ‘Alaipauthey’, when the rigmarole of joint-living—sorry,  live-in-relationship –  or marriage take-over after the euphoria of first-love.

Right from the first shot, Manjule makes it clear that we are in for an orchestrated roller-coaster ride to a cinematic experience: There’s that part in the beginning, a Bitternagar – no pun intended with the word ‘bitter’ of the English language’— Premier League match [BPL], where, the winner would walk away with 11,111 Rupees, while the second-runner up would walk away with 7,777 which would be sponsored by the ‘esteemed’ citizen of Bitternagar, who is described by the commentator as the one who respectfully owns a HOOCH store! There’s a literal homage to rural Marathi folk-lore as well as R. K. Narayan’s ‘Malgudi Days’, when the grand-mother of a guy—who happens to be the ‘dancing’ umpire; a la Brent Fraser ‘Bowden’ who signals dramatically the fours and sixes and all other decisions—comes and thrashes him with a stick as to who’s going to herd the sheep! And this guy is supposed to be the father of two kids!!

Then come the wooing parts, between Archie [Archana Patil]; and Parshya Kale [‘Parshya’ is common for Prashant as is ‘Narshya’ for Narsimha or ‘Padya’ for Pradeep in Maharashtra]. Come to think of it, in different scenes of the film, Archana keeps mentioning, ’Don’t you understand Marathi, or do you want me to talk to you in English’? This is a case of supremacy-stamping as well as making a classist statement but in a non-derogatory manner. Why is she called Archie? Archana, being a female, cannot be called, Archya! Hence the deceit of ‘Archie’, cleverly symbolizing the gender-difference as well as her arrogance over having been educated in the English medium.

Right from the on-set, Manjule decides to subvert all the gender-stereotypes. His ‘hero’-ine rides a Royal Enfield – although she might sometimes need the help of the hero to kick-start the ‘monster’; she rides a tractor, so much so that Parshya’s mom literally says, in Marathi, ‘लई धाडशी ग बाई तू’, when she’s riding a tractor to go to the farm and making sure that Parshya hears it. When Archi starts staring at Parshya in the class-room, it is Parshya who is embarrassed and makes an excuse to leave the class-room and literally begs her to stop ogling. In another sequence, when the ‘dunce’ like friends of Parshya who are talking about sending love-letters comparing them to letters that Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj sent during his times, Archi stands astride a library card that highlights a book by William O’ Neil. In another sequence, she literally challenges her cousin Mangya to touch Parshya even slightly promising Mangya she would smash his face. And then, later on, in another sequence, she takes the gun and shoots her uncle right in his arm. Throughout the film, she is in the driver’s seat, literally, driving the Bullet, the scooter, or the tractor.

As I mentioned before, there are many parts that add up to the totality of this film. The first part is QSQT at its wooing stage with sweet-nothings et-al and the ‘discovery’ of love till almost the 1 hour mark; then the adults take over and it’s an adventurous escape for the next hour, shot with extreme technical proficiency, and there’s the final act where the film takes the ‘Alaipauthey’ route where the live-in-couple start quarrelling as to who knows how to peel a garlic or how to make proper tea: The difference in the last act being the girl’s difficulty in adjusting to a life of uncertainty and hard-ship owing to her upbringing. [Rinku Rajguru is brilliant in show-casing her torn emotions between her dis-comfort in adjusting to the hard life and her love for Parshya.]

Parshya, on the other hand, is quite happy with his role as Bitternagar team’s cricket captain, as somebody who is madly in love with Archie, and that’s it. He survives within that arc and is quite wiling to be ‘owned’ by Archie. He is the usual happy-go-lucky guy—though with 72% marks in his 12th grade when compared to Archi’s 55% [which she was so proud of till then]. He sometimes helps his father catch the fish, but that’s about it. Other times, he is busy chasing Archi and wooing her. Actually, change that, all the other times he is just wooing her!

The story is as old as the hills; considering, that oppression too is as old as the hills. A lower-caste boy falls in love with an upper-cast, privileged-girl; girl’s influential political family opposes, they elope and finally meet a cruel fate. But where Manjule wins the hearts and also wrings them is the way he brings it to life on screen. As mentioned before, his is a ‘love’ story that’s been attempted numerous times before, but here, he brings the intersection of class and caste and nails that cross in the viewer’s hearts. There’s an arc that he builds with each character that’s so subtle but one that shouldn’t be missed. For instance, the Patil character, the girl’s father, within the first 15 minutes, awards the winning trophy to Parshya and then proceeds to give a talk with regard to district elections and how he’s sure to decimate his rivals electorally: And he says, in his last line, “They can hardly control the women-folk in their family, how can they control a district?” And everybody laughs, including Parshya. Now there’s a woman, a vaguely referenced and named Suman sitting on the dais. Some-where at half-way mark through the film, his son, named ‘Prince’, is disturbing the class playing with his mobile when Mr. Shanbagh, a teacher who we should understand as a Dalit English Professor, comes and pulls him up. Prince slaps the teacher in front of the whole class. [As an add-on, Prof. Shanbagh is talking about modern ‘Dalit’ poets in Marathi like Namdev Dhasal and to his back on the chalk-board, you find scribblings of African-American revolutionary poets and a direct reference to Richard Wright’s ‘I have seen black hands’. An upper-caste boy uninterested in an English class talking of oppression is Manjule’s metaphorical way of telling us the societal neglect, to-this-day, of the overt or covert casteism present amongst us. In a later scene, when the couple has been caught and thrashed, Prof. Shanbagh says, ‘You slept with her, the job’s done; forget her; how many times have they done this with our women?’ This is a Professor speaking! [The sound of one slap, the oppression via a system, echoes a thousand responses when it comes to oppression, and Manjule uses this scene to convey the fact.] Later, Patil slyly tells Prince that he has gone ahead and made his grand-father proud by slapping the Professor! And then, in a veiled but subtle threat, he tells the Principal and the Professor who come to meet him to explain to Prof. Shanbagh – not Prince— as to who’s who in the village so that such mis-understandings do not occur again. In the final parts of the movie, it is revealed that Mr. Patil has lost his candidacy and Suman, the ‘woman’ is now the candidate. The camera pans on a disheveled Patil’s face, as the person commanding the mike goes on talking about the ‘tradition’ of Maharashtra where women like Jijabai and Savitri Bai Phule were equally important figures of authority and morality! It is like Manjule literally takes Patil on a 180-degree testosterone-pumped ride and then thumps him on the ground! Suman is not a candidate now because of her ‘talent’: It’s because Mr. Patil couldn’t control the women-folk in his own back-yard! And note, Mr. Patil is not wearing his ‘shades’ at this function. Or the scene where Parshya’s bow-legged friend— {minority within a minority?}—realizes that he can’t, literally, get the sapna of his life ‘Sapna’, cries for a couple of minutes, and then walks across the street with his bow-legs asking his friends to get up and get going, saying: चलो रे: ज़िंदगी की यही रीत है, हार के बाद ही जीत है! And he sees another crippled man walking across, and asks him, ‘How are you Kaka? All good?’ The guy doesn’t respond. He asks him again. Pradeep wants him to respond! The guy then turns around and says, nonchalantly, everything’s fine! Nothing’s fine here, and Pradeep’s ‘crippled’ character wants an immediate identification and recognition from his ‘type’ that he couldn’t get from Parshya and Salim, though, they themselves identify as minorities! One can go on and on about such references-within-references of Manjule!

Manjule uses Ajay-Atul’s music beautifully. Right from the first beautiful song of ‘Yaad laagla ga mala Yaad laagla ga’ to ‘Sairat Zala Ji’, Manjule makes use of slow-motion-capture of songs fantastically, almost as a tribute to ‘Pehla Nasha’ from ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.’ And he uses the technology of the medium brilliantly: When a soaped-up Pradeep tells him that Archi and her friends are in the well, Parshya dives from his father’s boat abandoning the help needed by his father almost like a beautiful dolphin over-come with a spirit! And the cinematographer captures it in a slow-motioned manner in such a way that the camera almost doesn’t want the dive to stop; it just wants to hang-in there and capture the beauty of the rushes of first, one-sided love. And then, when he and his friends are escaping on a motor-boat, the camera swirls from a silhouetted-capture of the faces when they are still close to the bank to their sun-lit faces as they get away, signifying an escape to a hopefully brighter life. As soon as the couple are in Hyderabad, the camera stops capturing even the intimate details in slow-motion. It is life, a brutal life where the boy drinks water from a water-jug while the girl keeps complaining of dirty water, stinking rooms and bath-rooms. Reality kicks in, and there’s no more slow-motion. This is the rousing power of cinema, of when technology is fused with emotions and the narrative. When Archi is at the police station, the portrait of Gandhi hangs to the left, that of Indira to the right—what an irony—and Ambedkar’s at the center. In the climactic scene—which is shot as a matter-of-fact without any music, and for a reason— too, Archi is drawing a Rangoli, half-drawn, as soon as the dark shadow of her uncle’s slippers cover the other half. Drawing a rangoli marks the beginning of a day, and her family’s shadow covering it marks the end of a blissful life for the couple. Just before the scene, Archi and her baby keep exchanging ‘byes’ repeatedly, as any parent or kid would do, at any-time, and any day, on a normal day, but only at the end you realize its significance on this day.

Manjule has gifted a movie that is to be devoured for decades. It’s a full-blown, unapologetic, masala movie—the Marathi native who comes to the rescue of the couple in Hyderabad is a direct ode to Sunny Deol-Meenakshi’s Damini’s initial introduction in ‘Damini’— with tremendous respect for our cinema’s masala traditions, our oral history, and our vastly rich historical-cloth with huge holes every-where.

Notes:

‘लई धाडशी ग बाई तू’ – ‘One gutsy girl you are.’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namdeo_Dhasal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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