Vantage point

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Review of "Sarivar Sari"

Marathi cinema has been stuck in an unenviable position over the last couple of decades. Since the Hindi film industry is in Bombay, it means that top Maharashtrian talent would rather do Hindi films for greater pay as well as greater recognition. Also since everyone in Maharashtra understands Hindi, it means that the masses who make films commercially successful on a large scale, will watch Hindi films. So financially, Maharashtrian cinema can never scale heights similar to Tamil cinema.

However with the advent of multiplexes, it has become possible to target niche audiences whose size might not be big enough to command big budgets, but is big enough to make a film with a moderate budget. The first major success of such niche-driven-marathi-cinema was Shwaas. Mainstream Bollywood could never pull off a Shwaas. But the substantial educated and refined Marathi middle class made it successful enough to become India's official entry for Oscars.

I just finished watching another such movie - Sarivar Sari ( the title means 'Torrent after Torrent' Note - the sari here is not pronounced sari as in the item of slothing. the sar- is pronounced like in sarpanch). I can't see Bollywood pulling off the movie, either mainstream or even multiplex. The movie is set against a very middle class frame of reference, most components of which are universal to any part of India, but some of which are very specific to Maharashtra.

Sarivar Sari is mainly the story of Manisha(Madhura Velankar), a girl from a lower middle class Marathi family in Mumbai. Manisha is confident, aggressive, amost tomboyish, and is ambitious, but not like her sister Mini(Manasi Salvi). Mini is studying in a medical college, has always been a good student, and is the apple of her father's eye because in her he sees a promising ambitious girl who will reach beyond the shackles of poverty and make it big. Manisha is different, almost reminiscent of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa's Shahrukh. She is promising, but in her own way, and her talents are of a non-academic nature. Her father is always pissed off at her for wasting her time, and not following in her elder sister's footsteps.

Manisha does a fashion show in college, is "discovered" and gets a modelling contract. That is when all hell breaks loose. Her father literally beats her up and she runs away from home.

Some may confuse the movie's central theme to be feminism, and how the Indian woman is subjugated by the male. Indeed, there are enough characters thrown in to derive such a conclusion. There's the mother who has spent her life in toiling for the family but has no say in any of the family's decisions. There's the bar dancer who is the sole bread-winner in her family and yet has to take abuse from her husband. There's the over-the-hill model who makes every compromise possible, but later commits suicide because her boyfriend refuses to divorce his wife and marry her.

Sarivar Sari however is first and foremost Manisha's story, and it is a story not of feminism, but of individualism. It is a story of how the world tries to shackle an individual by imposing upon him/her some preconceived notions of right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate. But finally it is up to the individual to evaluate his/her own definitions of right and wrong, and not conform with those of the world.

I especially loved the scene in which Manisha gets the modelling offer and asks her sister what she should do, knowing that their parents are very old-fashioned and will never allow her to model. Her sister says to her - "What you should do... is not something that is my place to tell you... what you shouldn't do... is something that I don't have the courage to tell you".

When Manisha finally jumps into the world of modelling, she predictably faces many challenges. She doesn't compromise on her definitions of right and wrong, and holds her own, through several situations, again predictably.

But what I found unpredictable, and even courageous was the ending. I never thought that an Indian filmmaker would have the courage to end the film on this note. After fighting off several inappropriate advances, including offers to sleep with someone for getting a good assignment, Manisha is offered an international assignment in which she has to pose nude.

I seriously expected her to turn it down, just like she fought off the amorous photographer, the lecherous co-ordinator, and the sex-for-work offer. After all, this is an Indian movie, and nude shots are "wrong" and all that. An Indian girl may wear skimpy clothes, kiss on screen, shake her butt even. But nudity? No no, sorry, no nudity, we are Indian. Maan, maryada, izzat and all that. However, Manisha accepts the assignment and agrees to do the nude shots.

When she tells this to her family, her sister, who has supported all this while flinches and asks her "Why? What is the need to do it?". Manisha's answer is so clear, logical and convincing that it's encouraging to see it in an Indian movie. She says - "Again, the same question of traditional rights and wrongs. No one is pressuring me to do the nude shots. And I am not doing them because I am in some sort of need. I want to test myself.I want to break not just the old traditional barriers, but even the new ones. I know for sure that I am not just a doll. I am not just my body. I am so much more. My intelligence, my ideals, my talent, my confidence are all a part of what I am. And I want my family to share my successes with me."

Sarivar Sari is a film that deserves a wider audience, and if you get your hands on a DVD of the film with sub-titles, do watch it. Let's hope more such movies are made in India which actually address relevant issues instead of just glossing over them. Take a bow, Gajendra Ahire.