Plot: Parshya (Akash Thosar) and Archie (Rinku Rajguru), two eighteen-year-olds in Bittergaon, fall in love.
Director: Nagraj Manjule
Writer: Nagraj and Bharat Manjule
My brain balks at writing about Sairat. I’ve already watched a movie (the incredibly fun Mr. Right) and had a work discussion trying to save a failing idea, in attempts to find something else to do. Where does one even begin? I’m in danger of just writing “AAAAAAAA” and leaving it at that. That’s what my brain does when too many things rush into it at the same time, especially if the things rushing in are emotionally upsetting.
The birds. Maybe you’d like to hear about the birds. Sairat is set in Bittergaon, Mahrashtra, and in Karmala, Maharashtra, and in Hyderabad. All these places house birds. Flocks and flocks of them. Sometimes they are in the air and they fly in complex formations, shapes seamlessly bending inwards and inverting to become other shapes, as when Parshya (Akash Thosar) and Archie (Rinku Rajguru) first openly admit their love for each other. Sometimes, they fly as individuals, hither and thither, as when Parshya is running to the well to catch a glimpse of his lady love. And at other times, the flock of kabutars gets disrupted and takes off in a ruffled pandemonium.
I don’t know what to say. A fisherman’s son, a Kale, and a landlord’s daughter, a Patil, fall in love. They’re found. Much beating follows. They run away to Hyderabad, and make a life there. They get married, have a kid.And when they drive past young couples being harassed by Hindutva goons, there’s a moment of discomfiture and no change in speed. And when their relationship is on the rocks, his insecurities take over and he hits her. It’s good, I suppose, that Mr. Manjule didn’t feel the need to make them perfect, and Sairat is an infinitely better film for it. Doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
Or maybe I can talk about the world. It is richly textured, full of life, replete with history… is that enough cliches? It’s true, though. Often, the most enduring legacy of a work is the world it creates, and this world is certainly a contender for a world that will stay in the minds of moviegoers.
Or the gimmick. The music from this movie, I’m told, is very popular. Because it’s all love songs. And the promotion, similarly, seems to be as a teenage love story. And the beginning, Parshya is the alpha eighteen-year-old of Bittergaon – clean, non-tobacco-chewing, athletically gifted, academically high scoring, a poet – and Archie the alphaess – the spunky, gender-stereotype-busting rich girl. I’m sure there’s a ’90s Salman Khan and Juhi Chawla movie that fits a similar description. But, of course, it’s not a love story. Well, not just. This, of course, is not an accident; Mr. Manjule wants the urban masses to watch this film, so he lulls them in with promises of Marathi Salman Khan. A move whose wisdom has been vindicated again by the reactions to various events at various campuses in the last year: it’s the same concerns in garb that’s not immediately identified as anti-national and thereby dismissed.
Or… aagh, it’s getting infuriating trying to say things without revealing too much of the dramatic arc of the movie; it’s just too hard. Here’s your takeaway, then: Sairat is a damned good movie, made by a man in complete control of his game, and it’s worth the three hours, and it’s worth showing to your conservative aunts and uncles.
…There’s this moment in the film when, less than a week after saving Parshya and his family and his friends and their families from being jailed for life and then from being beaten up (maybe even to death) by her family, she tells her coworker at the 7-up bottling plant that her brother is a good person and her father is a good person and her uncle is a good person; they gave her a home to be part of, after all. This is what this movie will make you feel about Indian society after watching it. Let me leave you with this quote from the economist Bryan Caplan
I am deeply alienated from the society in which I live. I regard our policies as criminal, and politicians of both major sides as evil people. My assessment of our society’s opinion leaders is similar, though milder and less categorical.
Many thoughtful people I know regard my rejection of our society as childish. Rather than defend myself, I have two questions for all such people.
1. In what actually existing societies would my alienation be morally justified? Nazi Germany, I hope. North Korea, I trust. How about Saudi Arabia? Putin’s Russia? Napoleonic France? The antebellum South?
2. Look at your answers to Question #1. Now ask yourself: If I grew up in a society in which, by my own account, alienation would be morally justified, would I in fact be appropriately alienated? In how many such cases would I at least inwardly damn my damnable society? And in how many cases would I take the path of least resistance, accepting the status quo as morally tolerable or even laudable?