I write this barely a few hours after viewing Sairat, in the middle of the night to boot – because this isn’t an easy movie to get out of your system. And this is no review (I never try to write ‘reviews’ – I don’t think I’m qualified! – but sometimes your fingers get the better of you).
Watching a movie outside of where you expect to watch it is a much more immersive experience than a regular movie is likely to be. So when you watch a Marathi movie outside Maharashtra, that time you spend in that darkened movie hall is a time which truly does transport you to another world. And that’s what movies are for aren’t they?
So Sairat released a week ago but only get’s 2 shows on the weekend. So it took some effort, planning & travel to actually go watch it. (Unlike what we’re used to anymore isn’t it? We’ve become so accustomed to the entitlement to pop into a multiplex close by where of course there’ll be a screening within a time zone we want to watch it in…). To add to that, on the way I found out that this is a close to 3 hour movie. And I inwardly groaned, because despite all the nice things I’d heard about it, inspite of all the critical acclaim – the thought of a 3 hour love story left me skeptical.
So what is Sairat about? It’s essentially a movie in 3 parts. The first part is the set-up, the romantic comedy. Poor-lower caste-boy-like-rich-upper caste-girl, boy-woo-girl, friends make it happen, girl-takes-charge. This is the fun part, with lots of zany local humour, two awesome sidekicks, lots of leg pulling and generally to make you feel good with lots of cliches and takes a really long time. It is running however with a sinister backdrop – which we know will come – and when it does, segues seamlessly into part 2. This is a chase & run story – a variation of the classical trope. Angry family hunt for couple on the run. It seems hopeless at times and scary at others. But because, because the first part has taken it’s time and got us really invested in the characters, we genuinely care and root for them with a pounding heart in a mission where the bad guys are the Goliath and our protagonists are puny David’s. And then we move to phase 3 – romance-gone-wrong-then-gone-right, which is a drama exploring the mundane herculean-sities of every day life in a nuanced manner.
Sairat is a movie of cliches. It has every cliche in the book if I can recall – poor boy – hardworking, industrious & nice alpha male, 1 sidekick from another religion, 1 sidekick with a physical challenge, spoilt brat girl, spoilter brattier sibling, politician dad, vengeful henchmen, village life through bathing in wells, fishing & shooting the breeze near the lake, chase which goes wrong, well-meaning ally who’s cornered, dignity of labour issues, using mineral water to show class divide, spoilt girl not being able to cook, guy having envy issues, a white collar v/s blue collar career path (relatively), the Indian version of the American dream – phew – this was without any notes. I’m sure there’s nothing in this movie which is unique.
And in line with what we celebrate and seem to want these days, that shouldn’t work in it favor. We’re an audience who wants shocks, surprises and stuff we’ve never seen before. We want to be hit with something new, something stunning. But Sairat doesn’t really do that. It made me realise that a good story, just told as a good story – is a great experience in itself. It doesn’t even have a message at the end! And cliches are cliches for a reason – we can relate to them. Telling cliches well, with a twist to them is where the directors skill comes in.
And telling the story well & realistically is what the director does. I’m a big fan of ‘realism’ in non-fantasy movies, because I feel my involvement or engagement with the movie is tangentially related to how believable what’s shown on screen is. So while it’s filmy, it’s cliched – it’s never unrealistic. Not even the fight scenes (if you could call them that) are exaggerated. It also tells us you don’t need stars to tell a good story, nor do your protagonists need to look like Adonis or an Aphrodite. Having them look and feel like real people probably makes your story more relatable. And an escape from reality can be relatable & masala, unlike the standard defence for a lot of poor movies. Both the protagonists are magnificent by the way. It is difficult to believe that the girl who played Archie (Rinku Rajguru) is just 15 years old!
Sairat is also a very intelligent movie. Just watching the trailer after the movie indicated to me the significance of a lot of images and dialogues which you wouldn’t necessarily grasp on first viewing. It shows a lot, but it also doesn’t show a lot – with some jumps from point to point. More importantly, and this where I have an issue with a lot of Indian movies – it doesn’t over-explain everything. There’re parts where I wondered what was going on, and how could something not be spoken about or explained, but as the tale progressed, I realised the answers came to me or were better served allowing me to mull over them. As I grow older, I think I’ve grown to like directors who trust you to draw your own conclusions. Sairat hold’s a mirror to us in a way, allowing us to see what’s good, what’s bad and what’s really really ugly.
My metric to define how good a movie is these days is how many times did I check my phone during the movie. And for a definitely slightly longer than needed movie, if that number was Zero, then I’m convinced about how good my heart is telling me it was. Nagraj Popatrao Manjule – take a bow. Sairat hit’s you, and how.