At the outset, SIR appears to be an unconventional story about the romance that blossoms between ASHWIN -a wealthy Architect and his housemaid -RATNA. But dig deeper, peel off the gloss of the class, and you will realise that the textures and ethos of romance have always been the same -oblivious to and transcending social, economical, physical and other constructs.
The journey is from platonic to romantic, unrequited to requited. Sometimes, unconditional and sometimes unspoken!
The plot underlining doesn’t come until the 3/4th of the movie. However, the implicit-obvious kicks in right from the 6th minute, the moment we see both of them together in the same frame for the first time in the movie.
What follows is the occasional pleasantries, daily chores, compassion towards each other and then there’s a lot of silence. It’s platonic! But in our hearts, we know!
Ashwin is healing from a broken engagement and his housemaid Ratna is a widow.
He has quit his writing aspirations, his US life and joined his dad in the construction business ( I don’t know the nitty-gritty).
She is shuttling between her maid job and 2-4 tailoring classes, trying to wing her Fashion Designer dreams. Yes, she knows the word!
Even Ashwin frowns upon hearing the word, but it’s only because he is surprised. She reprimands, but then from him comes the much-needed reassurance – ‘Everyone is entitled to dream’.
We know that Ashwin is considerate. His dad doesn’t want him to go green at the cost of the business ending up in red. We see him walking by the construction workers’ sheds. (wrongly labelled as the ‘labour camp’ by the art department). And since we know he is empathetic, we foresee his inclination towards her.
She stitches a shirt for him and gifts him on his birthday. Her mind knows that he wouldn’t appreciate it, but in her heart she believes and hopes that he would. And when he chooses to wear it! Well.. that certainly painted a wide big smile on my face!
The heart of ‘SIR’ lies in its protagonists, who are alien in each other’s world. And the magic of it lies in the way the actors have not only managed to ‘look’ the characters, but also eat, speak and breathe like ones.
This without any deliberate attempt to paint any of the worlds in superior or inferior colours, but the by-product of their immersive performances has only upped the contrast.
Vivek Gomber playing ASHWIN has sophistication ingrained and Tillotama Shome playing Ratna has delicate nuances imbibed. The way she severs the thread after finishing stitching or chooses to sit on the kitchen floor for her food doesn’t appear to be a conscious play. It’s because of this, we begin to believe in them as characters.
And once we believe and invest in characters, rooting for them is inevitable.
My eyes were moist every other minute – sometimes out of sadness, but many other times because the sweet smile permeated.
Rohena Gera is the director and has kept it all simple. And this simplicity has made it more real and the romance sweeter than the sugar-coated Bollywood romance.
There is no complicated writing, but the conflicts and social commentaries are strong enough.
Personally, ‘SIR’ has been one of the most satisfying and beautiful romantic movies in the past few years (along with October). After all, there is a thing about the words unspoken!
PS: A special shout out to a couple of moments, where things were kept off-screen (like the climax line), and it only added to the emotional value of the moment.
(Written as a part of writing exercise)
Two strangers – HER and HIM. Walk into a busy cafe. They end up sharing the same table , because the rest are occupied.
She is working on her laptop, while on a call. He is listening to something on his phone.
After a while..
She shuts down her laptop and then sips the coffee. He is busy on his phone.
She looks at him and he looks at her, they exchange courteous smiles. And just when he is about to return to his phone-
HER – Was I too loud?
He throws a questioning look at her, removes the air pod from his left ear, leans a bit forward, towards her and-
HIM – I am sorry?
HER – (a little loud) No… I was reading aloud while working on the presentation. Was I a bit too loud?
HIM – Ah.! I don’t know about that. (smiles) But.. now.. you are being .. hmm.. quite loud.!
She turns self-conscious and returns to her coffee. He returns to his phone.
A brief moment of silence and –
HIM – Mind if I ask what was the presentation all about? The one that you were working on!
HER – Ah.. hmm…
HIM – Ah. Don’t worry. I can understand if it’s way too confidential. But if you cook up a story saying that, tomorrow you are meeting the CEO of HANSEL PRIME and the presentation was for that, I would reply with ‘oh. that’s nice’.
HER – (confused) but I don’t know any company by name ‘HANSEL PRIME’!
HIM – (smiles) Well. That’s how you cook up a story Ma’am. You start with cooking up a fancy name.
HER – Actually… It’s just a sales pitch.
HIM – Sales pitch of what?
HER – So we have this new product for restaurants. Nothing fancy. Just a vending machine to dispense starters.
HIM – Oh wow! I own a restaurant. I could use that.
HER – Oh wow!! Seriously??
HIM – (laughs) No. I just cooked that up!
She throws a complaining look, followed by a laugh.
HIM – So.. on the scale of 1-10 how good are you at selling stuff?
HER – Well! I don’t ‘sell-sell’ stuff. I only prepare the presentations and pass them on to the sales team.
HIM – Ah! You should have just stuck to my HANSEL PRIME story. That was far more interesting! At least you were meeting the CEO in there!
HER – (complains) That was rude!
HIM – Ah was it? (thinks for a while) Or maybe it was! (smile) So.. tell me. How can I make it up to you?
HER – I don’t know. You tell me!
HIM – How about you pay for my coffee?
HER – Why should I pay for your coffee!
HIM – Well.. you don’t have to ‘pay-pay’! I will pass on an orange-colored currency to you and you can pass it on to the waiter!
HER – (laughs) You are continuing to be mean!
HIM – Well. At least I am making you laugh! Unlike your presentation that made you look grumpy!
HER – I am not grumpy!
HIM – Good! Then try not to look grumpy!
HER – Actually yes.! I am a little grumpy! But that’s only because there’s so much chaos around. At the office, at work.. (looks around) in the coffee shop here! I just want to… I don’t know… slip into something silent and enjoy the silence. Maybe then I would look a lot less grumpy!
They sip coffee in silence, drowned in the chaos of the cafe.
HER – So.. What do you do?
HIM – Well. Had we met a week ago, I would have said – ‘It’s been a week since I started working on my maiden movie as a music director’.
She grows a little concerned.
HER – Oh! What happened now? Did it get shelved?
HIM – Ah no! Now I would say – ‘It’s been two weeks since I started working on my maiden movie as a music director!’
He smiles. She displays sweet anger.
HER – Is this how you usually talk?
HIM – Ah no! It’s just today! Next week, Tuesday 6:30 PM, when we meet at Roulette Park for beer, I will be far more polite and sweet!
She looks taken aback.
HER – (perplexed) What!! Why would I meet you again? That too for a beer? And that too on a working day?
HIM – Well! Because I will be far more polite and sweet! That’s why!
HER – Well… I am not buying that!
HIM – Well, You are the one who is good at helping in selling stuff! Help me in selling you my invite!
HER – Hmm… You can start with… working on your sense of humor!
HIM – Why? Am I not funny enough?
She puts up a feeble smile.
HER – You are! And that’s the problem.
HIM – So you don’t like to laugh?
HER – Well… I don’t like that fact that in the past three weeks, you are the only person who has managed to make me laugh!
Now he turns self-conscious. He picks up his coffee mug and sips the coffee – rather uncomfortably.
HIM – Ok… You wanna talk about something else?
HER – Something else? Like.. what?
HIM – I don’t know. Anything! Ennio Morricone, World politics, Arctic ice sheets, sea seals, or the fact that my coffee got over a while ago. Yet I am pretending to be drinking it and that’s only because you have made me self aware.
She laughs. He smiles -rather sheepishly.
HER – So.. you tell me, now how can I make it up to you?
HIM – I don’t know. Hmm… Oh hey… Why don’t you listen to this song that I have composed for the movie!
HER – And what if I don’t like it!
HIM – You could just lie that ‘you loved it’! And I will buy that.
She laughs -mildly, and then pulls out her headphones. He connects it to his phone and then presses on the ‘play’ button.
Forty seconds later…
She frowns in confusion.
HER – There’s nothing in here. It’s just silence.
HIM – Something you were looking for.. since long! And you look a lot less grumpy now.
She looks at him for a while, closes her eyes and presses on the play button.After a couple of seconds, she begins to smile.
We begin to pull away -slowly. The chaos of the cafe dies down -slowly.
ME – That’s a nice book.?
SHE had buried her face in a fat novel. We were in a flight, SHE was my co-passenger and that was how I chose to kindle our first ever conversation.
SHE – (smiles) I Know.
She adjusted her large round glasses before returning to her novel. She hadn’t answered my question and I had to bother her again.
ME – Oh no.. That was a question..!
SHE – (acting surprised) Ah.. Was it?
ME – Yeah. See. that’s the thing..
SHE – (confused smile) That’s the thing about what?
ME – About spoken English..! It’s different from novel reading. You need to master the art of picking question marks and punctuations..! I asked ” That’s a nice book?” and you thought it was a compliment.
SHE – Ah.. ! All this while I thought mastering the art of basic grammar helps. For instance, had you asked ‘ Is that a nice book?’, it would’ve made both our lives a lot easier.
Was she being sarcastic? I grew confused and forced a smile. I returned to my silence and she returned to her book. After a while..
ME – Is that why you read novels, to learn the grammar?
SHE looked at me and this time the smile had grown fainter.
SHE – Na.. I read novels to kill time. But right now, I don’t think there’s any such need. Because you are anyway killing my time and mood..
Awkward silence. She was about to resume reading.
ME – (confused) Did you mean it in a good way or bad?
SHE – (sarcastic smile) Ah.. I am sorry. That was me offering compliments.
ME – See that’s the problem with mastering the art of grammar. People with poor grammar, the ones like me, can’t sense the mood and understand the meaning..
SHE – Ah..! Perhaps paying attention to the tone and expression of the person would help.
My smile dropped, mind grew numb and repartee went dry. She turned the other way and to the next page of the fat fiction. Or maybe it was a non-fiction.
ME – You are irritated..
SHE – (irked) I am sorry.. Was that a question?
ME – Ah.! No.. Your crash course on grammar has helped. I said ‘You are irritated’ and that was a statement.
SHE – Good.!
ME – What’s good? Me learning the grammar real quick or you looking irritated?
SHE – The fact that you could finally sense that I am getting irritated, is good.
Both of us looked at each other for a while. Odd silence.
The airhostess arrived at our seats with the drinks cart. I grabbed a beer and she an orange juice.
ME – cheers
SHE took a real deep breath and put up a straight face.
SHE – You do know that you have been irritating me, right?
ME – ( stutters) Yeah I guess.!
SHE – And you still continuing to do it, you know what is it called?
I began to think for a while and when nothing crossed my mind…
ME – I don’t know.!
SHE – This is stupid.!!
I returned to silence for a moment and then..
ME – (sighs) Man.! Thank god.! I thought you would mistake it for indecency. You know what, you are not only good at grammar but also good at reading faces.!
SHE – So does that mean you are stupid?
ME – Stupidity is a very subjective thing.
SHE – (irked) Care explaining how?
ME – Do you know that light shifts its path when it travels from one medium to another?
SHE – Yeah I had chapters on ‘refraction of light’ during my primary schooling..
ME – Yeah.. and you do know that light travels at 3Lakh km/sec
SHE – In Vacuum yes. but in air it’s a little less..
ME – Good.! Now see, the person behind us who is overhearing our conversation would think that you are a science genius..
SHE quickly turned back and the passenger behind us panicked. He smiled uncomfortably and rushed to the lavatory. She looked at me and laughed Mildly. I shrugged my shoulders and continued.
ME – But you thinking that I am stupid and yet discussing the high school physics with me. Now I would see that as stupidity.!
Her smile disappeared, but then it returned, rather quick and with far greater intensity. She burst into laughter.
SHE – That was offensive, you should know that.!
ME – Well, I do. But the fact that you are laughing, your right shoulder favouring me now and you no longer crossing your legs, tells me that you are interested in furthering this conversation.
She grew conscious, shrunk her smile and crossed her legs again.
SHE – So you think your poor sense of humor piqued my interest?
ME – (winks) Na.! I think it was the high school physics!
SHE – (smiles) And what else could you decipher about me?
ME – The one common between you and your book.
SHE – (confused)That both of us are fat?
I thought for a while.
ME – Okay. Now I know two common things about you both. One, that you are fat. Tell me the other.
SHE – (laughs) That was offensive again. But anyway.. I’ve no clue.. You tell me.
ME – The names.. I don’t know both your names..!
She laughed like she hadn’t in years and then held the book towards me. The title read ‘Chicko – The street boy’.
ME – That’s a nice name. And what’s the name of the book?
She laughed again, but I chose not to. That was the thumb rule – Don’t laugh at our own jokes.
ME – Ah.! That’s the name of the book.! So what is yours? Would I find it on the first page of the book?
SHE – Why would my name be on the first page of the book?
ME – (curious) So is it there in the last one?
SHE – (laughs) Nooo..! Why would it be there?
ME – I don’t know.! People with large round glasses have this habit of writing ‘THIS BOOK BELONGS TO’ and their name, with a dirty looking signature.
SHE – (laughs) Sorry to disappoint you. But I haven’t picked the bad habit.
ME – (winks) Ah.! I can help you pick habits.!
SHE – That was kind.! But no thanks.!
ME – Lady.! What should I do to know your name?
SHE – May be wait.!
ME – And for how long?
SHE – May be until we cross paths again.
ME – That we would.!
SHE – Was that a prophecy.?
ME – Na. That was me praying! ( laughs mildly) And your grammar wouldn’t help you understand that.!
We smiled and took a sip from our respective drinks can.
ME – So if I decide to write about you, what should I be calling you in the story?
SHE – You could call me ‘SHE’
ME – SHE is beautiful.!
We both smiled.
SHE – And what should I be calling you?
ME – The first adjective that came to your mind, when I first spoke to you.!
Silence…. and then she smiled.
SHE – That was Stupid..!