As Large as Life
This once obscure film, with a shoestring budget and young unknown actors has gone on tear hearts and is now the highest grossing Marathi film of all time.
by Rutwij Nakhwa
The nervous stares, the excitement, the butterflies, the rush of blood, never again feel as exciting as the very first time. And ‘Sairat’ takes you right back there. Bollywood has made hundreds of Romeo-Juliet-esque movies, from ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ (1998) to ‘Ishaqzaade’ (2012); but never with the confidence and flair of ‘Sairat’. The fact that this once obscure film, with a shoestring budget and young unknown actors has gone on tear hearts and box office charts is telling. It is now the highest grossing Marathi film of all time.
In a small village in interior Maharashtra Parshya, a low caste fisherman’s boy falls in love with his college classmate Archie, the daughter of a powerful local politician. Archie is rich, upper caste but also armed with a resolute self-confidence and sense of humanity. It is she who takes strong steps to initiate and protect their relationship. Director Nagraj Manjule shrewdly draws heavily on the nostalgia of cheesy Bollywood romances, complete with hair-flips and ample slo-mo, which the characters, like majority of Indian audiences have internalised. But he doesn’t get carried away as we are left spell bound by the stunning visuals, replete with wonderful romantic landscape shots, the rich sound design, some good performances and up-tempo editing that ensures that the close to three hour film doesn’t weigh you down. It is a worthy follow up to Manjule’s acclaimed debut ‘Fandry’ (2013).
But haven’t we seen this film many times before? As expected things go wrong and the couple flees. As lights come on suddenly at the interval after almost two hours, doubts about the film creep into our minds; we ask “What now?”, ‘Sairat’ comes back with a masterstroke. Gone is the campy romantic style. As the narrative gets darker, so does Manjule’s filmmaking; now a lot more bleak and realistic. Just like the couple, we are hit hard in the face with reality. As they realise that living by themselves and staying in love is a lot more difficult that falling in it; even suggestions of horrors that could befall them are too much for our deeply invested hearts to handle.
The film gives you so much that giving three hours of your time seems fair. In its unapologetic confidence it does not shy away from making obvious commentary on the caste and economic divide between the lovers’ families. Something that you don’t get however, is an ending that you can easily digest. Like the rest of the film, it ensures that it rips your heart and grips your mind till much after you have left the cinema hall. It is a perfect balance style and substance, of romanticism with realism and of an age old story with a very real setting.
Rutwij Nakhwa, studying for his Bachelors in Mass Media at St Xaviers College, Mumbai, is working as an intern with Uma da Cunha and her quarterly magazine 'Film India Worldwide'