Making that next film after directing one of the finest Indian film seen in the last few years, Fandry, is a tough act to follow. Sairat is a good if not great follow up showing that Nagraj Manjule has a fine understanding of the cinematic language. No doubt, it is a superior film set very much within mainstream Indian cinema parameters this time and has its moments. But finally, it falls short of just being there, lacking that devastating knock-out punch of his earlier film.
Manjule addresses common issues of caste politics, forbidden love and its tragic consequences in rural to small town Maharashtra (the region around Solapur) in Sairat too. On one level, it could well be the continuing tale of his protagonist from Fandry, now in college, and has much going for it. You can’t fault the story setting, the on location filming, the capturing of local flavor, the casting down to each small character, barring maybe its leading man who, though endearing, is a hero that stands out from his group rather than blend into it, some deft insightful touches in its narrative flow, well-fleshed out characters who look and feel real in real lifelike situations. But in setting this within the template of typical commercial Indian cinema and playing up to its stereotypes, one can’t help but feel that there are several moments in the film that have a strong sense of deja vu. In that sense, the challenge Manjule faces is keeping his story engaging, fresh and thought-provoking right through its running time. While Sairat largely works, it also has its setbacks, weak points and the odd awful script contrivance, the Maharashtrian slum land-lady in Hyderabad for instance. The 170 minutes length tells on the film especially in the overlong first half where too much time goes in establishing the love story. The comparatively shorter second half, where we look at couple’s hard life in Hyderabad and their conflicts with each other, is thankfully more tighter, engaging and controlled.
The lack of originality in the form and treatment is obvious if one has been following Tamil cinema the last decade or so. Sairat could well have been a Tamil film, playing more to the tropes of several rural or small town based love stories that met tragic ends in Tamil cinema. And while one should ideally attempt to see Sairat as a stand alone film no doubt, it is hard not to visit Kaadhal, Paruthiveeran, Subramaniyapuram or Angadi Theru while viewing the film. The downside of this is that you know where the film is heading and thus, the ending fails to give you that final blow in the solar plexus. Still, for those not familiar with this genre of Tamil filmmaking, Sairat is likely to be a fresh and powerful film and yet another landmark film in Marathi cinema. But otherwise, the development of the romance, the excessive use of slow motion, the picturization of songs like montages that move the story forward – the songs playing in the background (rather than lip sync) while capturing some admittedly wonderful moments between the lead pair, the deafeningly loud background score – all owe their origins down South.
The two lead actors, though fresh, make a solid impact and the film’s biggest success is that it has you rooting for them big time. Rinku Rajguru, in particular, as the upper caste politician’s headstrong daughter, Archana, stands out. While it takes some time to warm up to her, it is she who comes more and more into her own as the film unfolds. She is especially good in the second half in Hyderabad as the spoiled rich girl having to live in a dirty slum after her elopement and gives much depth to this part of the film. It is refreshing to see her as a strong female character with a mind of her own who often initiates events rather than as the tame, standard mainstream bimbette heroine. Akash Thosar as the lower caste fisherman’s son is consistently good in his act but as mentioned earlier, he looks comparatively the hero and stands out in his group of family and friends rather than us feeling he is one of them. The supporting cast, particularly their friends, are all spot on.
The technicalities are adequate. Ajay-Atul’s songs are catchy and melodious adding much to the film but they falter in the loud and obvious background score.
All in all, Sairat is a good if not great watch. But what it reaffirms rather strongly is that with his first two films, Nagraj Manjule has undoubtedly established himself as a filmmaker to look out for. And that is commendable.
Marathi, Drama, Romance, Color