Why I loved Sairat even though it's a regular run-of-the-mill adolescent love story.
Sairat hit the theaters at a time where the role of cinema and media couldn't have been more crucial in shaping our thoughts and opinions on the current state of affairs in our country. We live in a country where the brutal and shameful Jisha rape case, followed by the Champa Chettri rape and murder case soon after, and this is just a few years after the Delhi gang rape case. One might have thought that things would be different, but funnily enough there isn't even enough media coverage on these matters. Absolutely nothing has changed.
I'm a 25 year old woman, I live independently in Bangalore and I have faced sexual harassment and gender based discrimination so often, it is ridiculous. I see it all around me, everyday, everywhere. There is no escaping it. I’m sick of it, angry and tired. And this is in an urban scenario.
Every time we talk about rape or sexual assault, we speak about the violence of one person against another. It is quite naive to blame all of rape culture solely on subjectivity. Like there is only one bad apple, and all others are shiny red imported ones from ‘abroads’. There is definitely more to it than that.
Of course we have the cultural baggage of being a patriarchal and caste ridden society since forever. And right from then, the politics of imagery have kept women out of the scene. For example - The Manusmriti, which explains our caste system;
‘For the welfare of humanity the supreme creator Brahma, gave birth to the Brahmins from his mouth, the Kshatriyas from his shoulders, the Vaishyas from his thighs and Shudras from his feet. (Manu’s code I-31)’
Nowhere in this hierarchy of caste is the woman mentioned, so, this is where it leaves us;
Brahmins > Kshatriyas > Vaishyas > Shudras > Women.
(Yes, there are some depictions of what women and their influence can do to your life but I’d rather not elaborate on that now.)
And then there are images, images we see everyday on hoardings, vehicles, televisions, in movies. Images of women being objectified in multiple ways.
Therefore, in a world where our visual topography is dominated and saturated with images of men trying to establish male superiority over women, it is extremely refreshing to see what Nagaraj Popatrao Manjule has done with Sairat.
Sairat is an ‘epic love story’ (epically long too) between the lower caste but gorgeous and bright village cricket team captain, ‘Prashya’ (Prashant) and ‘Archie’ (Archana) who is the upper caste, bold daughter of a local bigwig politician. Their love is obviously doomed from the beginning and it’s not a story you’ve never heard before. Manjule’s crazy skills as a filmmaker are very evident and the casting, acting, music, cinematography, everything, is just wonderful. But that’s not why I loved the film so much, it’s more about why the film is so relevant in today’s context rather than how it is good cinema.
Sure, he beautifully and sensitively handled some very poignant issues like caste discrimination, class conflict and opposing social norms, which are all very real no matter how distant they seem from an urban perspective. There are many moments in Sairat where we see the intersection of glaring patriarchy, gender conflict, caste discrimination and poverty, which reminds us of the fact that all of these issues are very interrelated. Looking at a particular conflict only through one of these lenses is not enough. These factors pan out differently in different situations changing the power dynamics in our society. Archana being an upper caste woman does give her a sense of power and authority in the first half of the film, which is in contrast to how she feels as a poor, uprooted urban slum dweller in the second half.
Having said this, for me, the highlight of this film was the way he handled gender stereotypes and successfully shattered them to smithereens; it really is worth applauding. Moments like when Prashya looks at Archie with pride after she saves him from a bully, or when he places roses on her slippers and prays to her when she catches his glance, are moments you will hardly ever see in Indian cinema.
I was gripping my seat with sweet joy every time Archie breaks the stereotype of being a fragile woman and takes control of her life. And it wasn’t just me, each time she swatted a sexist comment or disregarded an unwanted male gaze, the crowd whistled, men and women together. Why show the world images of coy women taking this nonsense when you can create characters that talk back, stand up for themselves and others, and are not afraid to face the music? And frankly, we need to see more badass characters like her today. The reason being, definitely more than half the young girls who saw this movie will probably copy Archie the next time they face harassment, look some slimy guy in the eyes and ask him to fuck off, and good for them!
Which brings me to another realization that Sairat brought about, today’s audience is not stupid. I was in the theatre at 12.45 pm on a Monday afternoon, more than a week after the movie released and it was almost sold out. And this is not a crowd that is mindlessly cheering at Dabaang kind of sexist jokes, or there only because a blockbuster superstar was acting in the film. These were real people, who were there only to sit in the theatre, wait for the lights to go out, and to be transported into an innocent but complex world that Nagaraj Manjule so beautifully and delicately weaves.
People want to see strong female characters, people want to see parallel realities, they want intelligent and sensitive films. So let us, as image makers, not feed them this garbage we see everywhere today. Sure, some of it is great. And has it’s own charm. But we live in a time where we need to be more aware and real about the images we create and what they say. Ours is a society where the silver screen is idolized on so many different social levels and it influences and shapes many many lives. These influences spread across generations, over time, desensitizing the community towards discrimination and violence. It’s time we moved on to newer ways of story telling, because, we truly are what we see.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Rucha Dhayarkar
Cover Photo Credit: https://www.youtube.com