If you’re a parent, you’d have faced that inescapable question your little one would have piped up and asked you, catching you unawares, much like any situation that the common man faces hits our scrofulous politicians. No, I don’t mean the question about the birds and the bees. That’s easier to handle, as you deal with it with parental élan – staring at the TV intently, hoping the little devil would just run away somewhere or you’d beam into the screen, much rather facing Arnab than the little swami next to you; or hem and haw and then change the topic with the grace of an elephant doing a tap dance; or, simply roar, “Birds and bees? None of your beeswax!” Nope. That’s not the question I had in mind. Here’s the battery of questions, coming from your lucent-eyed, innocent, pitter-patter of sunshine: “What does caste mean? What does upper caste mean? What does lower caste mean? What caste are we? How are we different from them?” Take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, and then hold on.
Watch director Nagraj Manjule’s third directorial venture, Sairat (Marathi, meaning Wild) first. Not that it’s going to make your life any easier or show you a way out. Au contraire, but more of that later. Manjule seamlessly spins Sairat into a three-part story and a devastating coda. Writing the screenplay himself, and with story by Manjule (again) and Avinash Ghadge, each part is a towering achievement for Indian cinema. The camera swoops into the village of Jeur, Solapur, and pretty much after the titles and a local match, you meet Prashant Kale a.k.a Parshya (Akash Thosar) and Archana Patil a.k.a Archi (Rinku Rajguru). You also realize very quickly that Parshya’s besotted with Archi. You also realize very quickly that Archi’s the daughter of an upper class landlord, Tatya (Suresh Vishwakarma), while Parshya belongs to a lower caste family. You also see how intelligent and hardworking Parshya is, while Archi’s strictly an average student – this, in a superb classroom sequence where the teacher enquires about the all-important “percentage” the students have scored. There are two other critical characters in the movie, and they are Parshya’s best friends, Pradeep Bansode (Langdya/Balya), played by Tanaji Galgunde and Salim Shaikh or Salya (Arbaz Shaikh).
It’s only a matter of time before Parshya’s head over heels with the high-heeled Archi, and a little down the timeline, she responds with a ferocity and conviction that stuns Parshya and delights you in equal measure. And it is she, who time and again, comes to Parshya’s rescue – and this is another triumph in the director’s Sairat cap of luminescent feathers. Archi, by dint of her nature and upbringing, is confident and brash even. Parshya, a deemed loser in the roulette of birth and caste, is hesitant, unsure of himself, not even sure that his love will receive an iota of reciprocity. These two parts of the movie – the school fun, the serenading and then the realization of true love, is captured in a rush of lush cinematography by Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti and the director. There’s crackling jokes, spontaneous comebacks and beautifully shot song sequences that’ll bring in a sweeping emotion of romantic madeleine and make you believe in love and falling in love all over again. Oh, the songs – Ajay-Atul score what is possibly one of the best soundtracks in 2016 and will haunt you for years to come, wrapping every track in an ethereal symphony of halting, haunting melody, guaranteed to fill your heart with the kind of yearning and goose-bumps only true love can accomplish. And Manjule is a master in filming the nuances that each song bumps up, capturing the madness and sparkle they emanate.
Take Yed Laagla, where the camera follows the smitten Parshya as he jumps through fields, passes a butterfly, runs parallel to the railway track – that’s such a classic shot – tossing his wallet and watch at Langdya, and then jumps into the pond where Archi’s taking a dip with her friends, and the camera follows him in slow motion, and then shows his POV, the camera dipping in height, staring at Archi in the pond, another impeccable capture. Composer Ajay sings and waltzes with the symphony with an earthy aroma of vocals that are complemented dreamily by Chinmayee Sripada. Or the song on Archi (Aatach Baya Ka), which in character with her character, is more pacy, upbeat – Ajay-Atul use lovely chorals, electrifying guitars, trumpets, and a melody that hook you with Shreya Ghoshal’s impeccable vocals; again shot in slow-motion, capturing the very essence of a girl who’s realized she’s in love and then makes no attempt to hide it, much to the boy’s discomfiture. Or, the other symphonic duet by Ajay and Chinmayee Sripada, Sairat Zaala Ji, that coos with the seductive insistence of a mating bird, again in slow motion. And finally, the last instance in the movie where love remains pristine and untroubled, and celebrates life with a vivacity that only first love can – the peppy Zingaat, that for some, wrongly is the mascot of the movie. Ajay-Atul also score a first-rate background score for Sairat – part symphony, part semi-classical, heart-breaking flutes, and part ominous, hopeless cellos.
With a heart-stoppingly picturized scene of escape of the couple from the village, Manjule swiftly removes the filter of romance as they land up in Hyderabad and suddenly face the cingular challenges of living day-to-day life. And that’s where Sairat slips into its third act, gobsmacks you, and strips you of any romantic notions in a singular cinematic whack. Running away from home is all very well, but Manjule throws you in despair, almost drawing a futilitarian curtain on the very concept of eloping. And you realize, that humming Rahul Dev Burman’s stellar Dekho Maine Dekha (Love Story) or Anand-Milind’s ode to civil engineering, Akele Hain To Kya Gham Hain (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak) isn’t going to pay the bills or get home the dough and the lentils. The frustration in Archi and Parshya’s marital wok simmers and boils over, leading to an intense scene on the city roads, causing you to almost cast away all romantic aspersions inside Davy Jones’s locker.
Sairat’s cast is a winner all the way. And the sheer raw talent that director Manjule gets onscreen is a sairat attempt in itself. And both Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru shine in their debut roles. Thosar is extremely likeable, couching his affable act in a vulnerable wrap of sincerity. Rajguru’s is a feisty act, and she is marvellous when she’s cocksure about what she wants and absolutely brilliant when the shanty life breaks her. Almost. And then breaks her completely when she doesn’t get her balsam in Parshya. Director Nagraj Manjule makes gigantic, important strides in filmmaking, and he makes Sairat a compelling watch. If you haven’t Sairated yet, click this link to buy the original DVD right here, right now. It’s not something you’ll regret.
And then, when you watch the movie, and realize that with a climax that’s chokingly powerful and gut-wrenchingly shocking, it’s snuffed out a part of you. You realize that no matter how far we’ve come in terms of evolution and century count, there’s a suppurative, violent layer of our society that has only one rule and bond – the caste and its family “honour”. Love may conquer all, but is an infraction in the caste divide. Now, you’re ready to answer your child. And yes, you’ve promised yourself that you’ll teach your children well. But Sairat raises a heir-raising question for every parent – what of the societal hell that awaits their children beyond the warmth of their secure cocoon of love? Who will prepare them for that? That Sairat DVD might not be the answer, but it sure is a blunt-edged weapon of a question.
Director Nagraj Manjule Running Time 2h 54 min
Writers Nagraj Manjule
Stars Akash Thosar, Rinku Rajguru
Genres Drama, Romance
Watch the trailer of Sairat here: