Sir Hindi Movie Review
Rohena Gera's Sir is a simple portrait of a relationship between a young architect and his live-in maid. That is not a spoiler as the giveaways are in the trailer and the poster of the movie. The maid is Ratna played by Tillotama Shome, and the architect is Vivek Gomber's Ashwin.
These are people from two different social strata, as evidenced by the tracking shots that go across the walls that separate their rooms. While he is watching TV on one side of the wall, she is sitting quietly and absorbed in her thoughts on the other. Her idea of passing the time is chatting with a housemaid next door, whereas his timepass activity is playing squash. These are symbolic of their status in society.
He is a wealthy person's son who just returned from the US. She is a villager with big-city aspirations. Her aspirations are so simple that they make you wonder how low a life she must have been living until then. As for her, a big city like Mumbai is an exotic place where she feels she can move ahead from her past. That is partly why she stares at this dress on a mannequin from inside a moving bus.
On the other hand, he is fresh from a break-up-like situation and is slowly getting his life back on track. We do not quite know a lot about him other than the fact that he was a writer when in New York. For a young inhabitant of Mumbai city who has a live-in maid, he is too well behaved (that is in cinematic terms). That politeness is in the way he says 'Thanks' each time Ratna serves him food. It is also evident in how he apologises to her every time one of his affiliates misbehaves with her.
When watching this relationship dynamic grow, I thought to myself 'Well, this is new in Indian cinema'. It seems to be a precedent. It is unlike how an Indian filmmaker usually treats a story about a servant and her master. Take Shyam Benegal's Ankur, for instance, or Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Vidheyan for that matter. Each of those films is about a rich man and his servant. And, the wealthy person in either of the stories does not treat his servant with respect.
I loved the idea that Ratna would find it hard to rise above the social differences and address him as anything but 'sir'. A servant always being a servant to his master, is one of the running themes in Adoor's film. In a way, Sir is an antithesis to the two other films mentioned above. The relationship dynamic in it is typical of neither a new India nor an old one.
What I liked about the film is how well it communicates a lot with very little dialogue. There are passages in the movie where you may feel that not a lot is happening, but Sir never seems an uneventful film. That is mostly because of the brilliance of its themes and the performances.
We spend the majority of the time with Shome and Gomber. They never act in the way our film stars usually do. What they come up with here is not a 'performance', in the strictest sense of the word. It is so devoid of histrionics, so unassuming that we could not imagine any other actors in their roles.
That said, the film's biggest star is Rohena Gera herself, who dons the hat of a co-producer, director and writer here. The last time someone did those multiple roles so well in Indian cinema was Rima Das for Village Rockstars. Like that Assamese language film, Sir gained acclaim through an international film festival before its theatrical release and eventual release on Netflix.