Sairat isn't merely a milestone in Indian cinema; it's a film that proves every story and voice matters
Even though Sairat was ostensibly a retelling of the poor boy-rich girl story, it was a perspective that we hadn’t seen before. With Sairat, we got to see for the first time what that world looks like from the viewpoint of the historically oppressed.
The irony of Sairat is that Archi and Parshya are immortal.
It has been over two years since Nagraj Manjule’s second feature arrived — it was love like we had never seen, being consumed by hate that has not really left us. Before long, Sairat created hysteria and history. Yet, two years on, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes Sairat such a fulfilling experience.
It has it all, of course. Starting with that stunning Ajay-Atul soundtrack; its sharp, punchy writing replete with blockbuster moments; the sophistication in Nagraj Manjule’s craft, which made so many scenes stand out; and of course, the iconic lead pair of Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru.
Rinku’s Archi, in particular, gobsmacked people across party lines, as she made entries riding a horse, a Bullet and even driving a tractor, all with Khaleesi-esque swagger.
But Sairat was also so much about the texture, flavour and smell of the world its characters live in; a world that’s remarkably similar to our own, even though we may deny it. You felt that world in the little details and the minor characters.
Take Archi’s brother Prince Patil, for example. He’s a case study in entitlement and privilege gone horribly wrong. Son of an influential politician, a ‘youth leader’, wears a Salman Khan bracelet and has a motorbike with a license plate that simply says ‘No Challange’. Doesn’t matter that there’s no vehicle number, or that challenge is spelt wrong; for who’ll challange Prince?
When Prince slaps a professor in class, you already know that this man is capable of far greater violence, because he believes it’s his birthright by class and caste. The professor in question was incidentally teaching them about Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal, founder of the Dalit Panthers. It’s a passing detail in the build up to the slap, but it’s also a crucial one.
Because even though Sairat was ostensibly a retelling of the poor boy-rich girl story, it was a perspective that we hadn’t seen before primarily because we got to see for the first time what that world looks like from the viewpoint of the historically oppressed — and it looks gruesome.
When the young couple’s courtship is discovered, Prince and his henchmen kick Parshya to his home and warn his father to send him away. The father then starts hitting Parshya, shrieking, “Why are you messing with upper-caste people? What’s the use of your education?”
It’s a relatively smaller one of the many gut-wrenching moments in the film, but it reveals so much about the crushing effect of historical discrimination on the subaltern worldview.
Later, of course, Prince rears his head in the climax of the film. Yes, that climax. The one that leaves its viewer numb every single time. Those silent 10 seconds of silence after a tiny, bloody footprint cuts to black scream out to you, if you choose to listen.
When you walk away from that climax, it feels like voices that have been marginalised, terrorised and subdued for eons have finally begun claiming their spotlight, showing us all a mirror while also revelling in their own glories and failures.
Packaged in the charming fun and froth of the first half and the ‘meet reality’ melodrama of the second, is a handbook on everyday injustice and the moral bankruptcy of those in power. It’s a depressing reality check about the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same; because the oppressor continues to fight for the right to continue oppressing.
Despite its 177-minute runtime, Sairat holds you through repeated viewings because you always find something new to take away from it. For decades we’ve seen stories of young love, and stories of marital issues on screen. For the first time, we got to see how both of those look like from a fresh, deserving perspective.
Sairat isn’t merely a milestone in Indian cinema, but a clarion call to lovers, poets and agents of change alike, because it gently showed us that every story and every voice matters.
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