Disclaimer: The following post contains spoilers from the movie SIR.
After its initial release at the Cannes Film Festival, Rohena Gera's Sir, starring Tillotama Shome and Vivek Gomber in lead roles, is streaming on Netflix. And if there's one Hindi film you catch on Netflix, let it be this one.
Carving a space for itself in Bollywood's overcrowded romantic dramas--a commendable feat in itself--Sir offers a beautifully poignant story on the importance of emotional intimacy and the struggle of seemingly inescapable social barriers.
Sir is the story of a young woman, Ratna (a brilliant act by Tillotama Shome), employed as Ashwin's (Vivek Gomber) live-in maid, and the changing face of their relationship.
Ratna is a widowed, aspiring fashion designer, who looks at her current job as a way to fulfill her dreams and carve a space for herself. Ashwin is the benevolent employer, the 'sir', who allows her to look after her own dreams, and not just his needs. They're both escaping their pasts.
Slowly, a bond that is established out of duty turns into one based on a sense of kinship over shared experiences and mutual respect, long before the tendrils of love seep into their lives. It's a reflection of not just the need for emotional intimacy, but also the importance of it.
But in a society where our domestic help is often robbed of even basic respect from their employers, how can they be at the receiving end of something as powerful and all-encompassing as love?
It's this conundrum that Tillotama and Vivek artfully bring to life, under Gera's expert writing and direction, and Dominique Colin's brilliant cinematography.
The film takes pain to establish Ratna and Ashwin as individuals first, before delving into their changing relationship.
Ashwin, the jilted groom, is the proverbial 'good guy', who does not exploit his privilege but does not shed it either. Ratna, the docile, dedicated worker, lights up at the thought of being a fashion designer, away from the confines of her status as a 'maid'.
But, as a conversation between Ratna and Ashwin clearly shows, only those who have enjoyed privilege for years, can afford to be uncaring towards the world.
For people like Ratna, who have had to fight for basic rights, their dreams have to remain limited, curtailed. They don't have the luxury to not care about the world because dreams and love may fill your soul, but not your belly.
There is a clear absence of romanticization of poverty or exaggeration of the class divide that invariable exists between Ratna and Ashwin. That's what affords the film a grace that is rarely, if ever, explored in romantic dramas rooted in the reality of interfaith, intercaste, or interclass couples.
Tillotama Shome is the other shining jewel in the film. Her Ratna comes alive on the screen in multi-hued shades, sometimes shining against a black and white world, and sometimes dissolving in it.
But ultimately, it's the social commentary that Sir offers, etched as a romantic drama, that allows Ratna and Ashwin's story to stay with you.
A camera pans from Ashwin's spacious bedroom where he watches news to Ratna's cramped quarters where she sees a regional show. The single-camera movement makes it clear - class divides them and humanity unites them.
The film is a treasure trove of moments, where the lead pair's social standing melts away to let their individuality come to the forefront. But, ultimately, the society's rules, as arbitrary as they may seem, are not as easy to ignore - either in the film or in reality.
Right at the end of the film, as the two stand physically and emotionally divided, Ashwin's father asks him if he's sleeping with his maid. Ashwin calmly responds, "No, but I'm in love with her." For his father, that's all the more reason for Ashwin to leave the country.
Moments later, Ashwin and Ratna share a phone call, where finally Ratna, overwhelmed at his last act of kindness (he helps her land a job as a tailor with a fashion designer) and heartbroken over her love for him, agrees to his wish to not call him 'sir'.
It's this moment that reminded me of the ending of The Lunchbox. It's a glimpse into the future that, at the first glance, appears sad - after all, love didn't win. But take a second, and it becomes a beautiful hint at the world to come - there are a hundred possibilities that exist, and in one such possibility, Ratna and Ashwin's love story need not end in stolen moments and illogical judgements.
All images are screenshots from the film on Netflix, unless specified otherwise.