City. Love. Class. Three classic ingredients for hundreds of popular Indian films. Awara, Shree 420, Devdas, Zanjeer, Raja Hindustani, Dhobhi Ghat… to name a very few from a really long list.
So when I sat down to watch Sir at NYIFF 2019’s opening night, I was not surprised by the central theme of the film, a love story between a ‘wealthy’, upper class man and his ‘poor’ live-in domestic help. However, what struck me was the sincerity and the nuanced approach with which writer-director Rohena Gera deals with the theme in her feature debut.
Set in the modern day ‘maximum city’, Mumbai, Sir is a poignant yet very charming narration of the growing love and companionship between two individuals, from two very different economic backgrounds, brought together by the economic reality of an ever-expanding megapolis.
It’s a simple storyline. Ashwin (Vivek Gomber) plays the jilted lover whose marriage falls apart on the day of his wedding as he discovers his would-be wife has been cheating on him. Ratna, the domestic help, otherwise a silent observer, gets drawn into the life and imagination of her dejected ‘master’ who was once a writer/blogger in NY, now helps his father’s realty business in Mumbai.
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A young widow from a village, Ratna has her own big city dreams. She is saving for her sister’s education and wishes to be a fashion designer (mind you, not a tailor) someday.
Interestingly, Tillotama Shome debuted as a domestic help (Alice) in Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding. Nair intoduced the film at the festival with high praise for Tilli, who she believes always had the ‘fire’ in her. Tillottama won the Best Actress Award for the film at NYIFF 2019. Vivek Gomber delivers a sincere yet sometimes too overtly restrained performance.
Gera’s cinematic language is unpretentious and devoid of any overtly melodramatic moments. No sudden twists and turns in the plot. No devious sub plots or conniving villains lurking behind the doors. The film stays with the two central characters. There’re no earth shattering moments. The very mundane rhythm of the daily life makes the basic narrative fabric that’s woven with rather humdrum pattern of actions between the Master and his Servant; Ratna opening the door for Ashwin’s arrival from work, cooking, serving, cleaning, attending to guests. The cycle continues. Gera infuses these mundane moments with humour and certain sensitivity and humanism.
Sir won the Best Film Award at NYIFF 2019. The film is due for theatrical release March 20, 2020.
By Saumya Verma