The review below contains mild to heavy spoilers. You are warned in advance.
Sairat is a love story, a love story set in India and not in imaginary mustard fields where people do not ask your surname or caste.While Fandry focused on the seething anger in an oppressed child who is not given his due, here Nagraj goes a step ahead, here he asks can love be a solution?
Nagraj introduces us to Bittergaon (Bitter Village) and when we see Prashant (Akash Thosar) for the first time on screen he is literally flying, a metaphor for the upcoming events in his life. Prashant has a crush on Archana aka Archie (Rinku Rajguru).Nagraj creates a Bollywood like land, in his own Bittergaon. He uses slow- motions, dance and colours. There are hints of tension or violence, but nothing which our hero cannot beat.
Nagraj is not just satisfied by telling the love story of one person,as we witness in one beautiful scene when Pradeep who is crippled is rejected by a girl. In this brilliant scene he is initially heartbroken, later comes to terms with reality and then finally accepts his self all in the span of 2 minutes.
Nagraj seems to be hinting that even if we fall in love, there are a lot of restrictions which we have in mind subconsciously, this can range from physical features to casteism in India.
Like in Pather Panchali here too train plays an important role in the film, while in Pather it is a source of amusement in Sairat it comes across as a saviour. While in Pather Panchali the family is out of sync with changing times, here it is the exact opposite, Prashant’s family wants to move on from the current social order.
In one scene, his father says he does not want his son to be a wastrel like him. He does not want his son to be a fisherman, this is a recurring theme in Nagraj’s films as to how in India a society looks down upon hard work and looks up instead to a person who does his least amount of hard work.
Nagraj’s Bittergaon is not a place where caste discrimination is overt, you can see Dalits entering temple, but you can see the discrimination is covert in the film, until it explodes at one point of the film.
Nagraj takes on this cotton candy version of love story and that reaches its crescendo with ‘Zhingaat’ song, as the story takes a turn. The first sign of violence appears as a kick and the music stops, then it starts again. The last 20 minutes of the first half plays as a cat and mouse game between the oppressor and the oppressed, it is the train which comes to the rescue of the young couple.
Nagraj goes on to ensure that the couple lands up in the city of Rohith Vemula, if you notice the station which they alight is Kachiguda which is going to be the most developed station in South zone, but the station does not have any warmth for the young couple.
They go on to realise that even a far off big city like Hyderabad does not have the warmth they are in search of or care for two people without any identity cards. The irony being both are running away due to their identity.
More than a love story, what interested me was how Nagraj establishes Archana’s character. To term Sairat as just a love story based on casteism would be wrong, I feel as I have mentioned in the first paragraph.
Nagraj I feel is more interested in telling a story about oppressed people in society that includes the crippled, Dalits and women in our society.
In one particular scene, where Prashant slaps Archana in public and later on when he harms her physically on the road, Nagraj focuses on the people who are watching the fight but not helping Archana, this is a sad reflection
When we see first Archana, we do not get to see her face, she gets an introduction which is usually reserved for the hero. Archana for those who do not know the meaning means a special person or offering to the god.
Archana is not a bully, but she is an assertive girl. Archana like Pooja of Ohm Shanthi Oshaana drives a bike. Like Pooja she is the first one to disclose her love to Prashant. Archana is the one who persuades Prashant to elope with her, in a role reversal where as in the previous scene where we see that Prashant does not have courage to enter her home.
Archana is the one who uses a gun to rescue both of them. During the second half, it is Archana who becomes adaptable to the city faster than Prashant. Archana works at the factory, she gradually rises up in the hierarchyof the factory.
In one particular stretch of the film, Nagraj pushes our definition of love, he now asks us can love withstand male ego, technology and intermingling of genders in our cities. Nagraj clearly indicates that love is not the answer always.
His characters have flaws, they do not judge each other. In one particular scene when Archana speaks to her colleague, she speaks fondly about her parents, she says they are good. This despite the fact her family members had tried to kill her boyfriend and tried to implicate him in a false rape case. The irony does not escape us, we have learnt to accept the bias as something good in our society, or caste as a good thing while ignoring the discrimination which takes place every day in our nation.
Archana has the authority in the first half of the film, not due to her gender but it is due to her caste. In second half when she is in the city, the caste equation goes away, she is just another second class citizen in the city like we treat our women.
In an interesting scene, which does not have any dialogue we see how Archana tackles a man who stares at her for long time. Even in Archana’s household you rarely see her mother voicing her opinion.
In an interesting scene, when Archana is watching TV, a boy changes the channel. Coming from a home where she had everything including from a horse to a bike, she is unable to comprehend her standing in a society. She cannot don the role of traditional women, which India wants her to, it is not because she does not want to.
Slowly she finds her way, in an interesting twist we see Prashant cooking to earn his living while Archana works in a factory.
Nagraj is interested in inverting things, right from first half he inverts the movie into second half. He is interested to seek our reaction of what we generally think is right or what we think people should do. He is asking us to reconsider all our stereotypes related not only to caste but also towards gender. Slowly Archana gets in to the groove, she conquers the city, learns the language, adopts its culture and is still the one to drive a two wheeler.
When the couple plans to buy a flat, she asks the essential question which most Indians face i.e “The Water Supply”, this coming from Archana who had earlier bought a poster home at the cost of grocery,a revelation of how she has grown.
Nagraj uses birds as metaphor in the film, he uses them in background when two lovers meet as if to indicate they want to fly away from the social realities of caste ridden Indian society. It is interesting he shows murmuring of birds, which is basically roosting of the birds. What makes us this an interesting choice is sometimes in roosting different species of bird come together.
A society which I hope Nagraj too wants, when people do not judge based on where we were born, but from our actions. He makes us believe, people can escape poverty, slum but in a stunning and heart wrenching climax which he showcases via the eyes of an infant, when the child find his parents murdered. Sometimes love is not the answer, but it seems caste is.
Nagraj’s brilliance lies not showing the violence of the climax scene, but making us imagine it playing it in our mind. He wants to confront us with reality, he mocks us with a fantasy filled first half, he is clearly a director who does not want the audience to be passive and want us to think. If we do think what would have happened to that child in Modi’s India where couples are harassed by RSS goons in city and by casteist society in villages.
Special mention to Gargee Kulkarni and Prerna Dubey for the costume design,not a single scene where the character’s costumes are out of the sync with their socio-economic status, in fact in two scenes Prashant wears the same shirt, indicating the few shirts that he perhaps has. The way they have dressed Archana is praise worthy.
Sudhakar Reddy deserves a big round of applause, especially they way he has shot in Hyderabad, it has never looked so beautiful even in Telugu cinema. The way he avoids aerial shots of Hyderabad yet makes us aware of the expanse of they city and claustrophobic nature of city is brilliant.
Sairat reminded me of Mani Ratnam’s Bombay where the couple elope to Bombay, supposedly a secular city and find themselves engulfed in a riot, here it is Hyderabad. The city gives both the couples a chance, but people don’t. While Mani choose a safe and commercial climax, Nagraj becomes path breaking and bolder by the climax which he showcases.
Sairat is a reminder to all of us that casteism still exists and so does discrimination, we need to overcome it. The victims of caste violence still majorly are women than men.
Sairat might not be a great film like Fandry, it has fair share of its flaws, but tell me which film does not have flaws. Despite its flaws it manages to hook you up for more than 170 minutes and it does not leave your mind or heart for a long, long time.
The film truly belongs to Rinku Rajguru, it is a wonder how a 15 year old can portray such a complex character.Kudos to Nagraj and Rinku for bringing Archana on screen with such dignity, we are in awe of her, love her, and most importantly empathize with her.
Note: The review is dedicated to Rohith Vemula and my young niece Nivedita, I hope when you grow up and find a man of your choice we do not ask you the caste of the person whom you love.If we do ask you that we would have failed not just as country but also as human beings.