Rating : Good (4/5)
Genre : Drama
Year : 2008
Running time : 2 hrs and 41 minutes
Director : Shyam Benegal
Cast : Shreyas Talpade, Amrita Rao, Ila Arun, Divya Dutta, Ravi Jhankal, Rajeshwari Sachdev, Yashpal Sharma, Kunal Kapoor, Lalit Tiwari, Ravi Kishen, Daya Shankar Pandey
Kid-rating : PG-13 (some violence/one could-be-uncomfortable love scene)
WELCOME TO SAJJANPUR (WTS) : AND WHAT AN INTERESTING PLACE IT IS !
Possibly the pleasantest (and best ?) movie of the year, WTS is a breath of fresh air. Yes, it does feel like you’re in a time warp, but a time-warp where film-making is still a nuanced art. Good enough for me.
Benegal’s reputation precedes him. The last film of his which I saw was “Hari-bhari” – a very well-told tale of female empowerment. That was quality just as WTS is. Both films place their characters in rural settings, and both deal with societal ills. And while it may seem that the storyline is not clear-cut, it is because the story comprises of many little stories, held together by a common thread.
In WTS, that common thread is the narrator, Mahadev (Shreyas Talpade). Mahadev is the village letter-writer/reader, being one of the very few literate people in the village. His flair for writing and poetry earn him business from various people in the village, from the voluble Mausi (Ila Arun) worried about the matrimonial prospects of her Manglik daughter (Divya Dutta in a boisterous speak-your-mind role) to the love-struck compounder (Ravi Kisshen). Through his interactions with his patrons, and their letters (which we, the audience, are privy to), we come to see the warp and weft of village life, its overt everyday life and troubles, as well as the hidden menace of power and politics.
Benegal’s films are graced by good actors and WTS is no exception. Talpade is fantastic. As Mahadev, he is the basic everyman, wanting to do what is good and right, but almost helpless against the powers that be. He is at once honest and cheeky, innocent and unscrupulous, glib and lost-for-words. A very fine performance indeed.
Amrita Rao, all sari-clad, and spouting village-speak is a far-cry from her city-girl-wet-rag avatar. It does suit her better though just as her role in Vivah (as terrible as that film was) suited her. She plays the role of Kamla, Mahadev’s childhood crush, and with her husband away in the city, Mahadev has hopes again. Ravi Jhankal plays MunniBai a eunuch who wants to be Sarpanch in opposition to the other contender, the wife of reigning village goonda (Yashpal Sharma). Jhankal’s plea for justice as the much-harassed common man, moved me to tears.
Ila Arun is another rarely seen actor. She is quite comical as the weeping, worried Mausi, attempting to ward off Manglik evil from her daughter’s person, by getting her daughter married to a “Shanichari” (born on Shanichar/Saturday) dog. Talk about sly humor – reminded me of this!
Rajit Kapoor has a small, small role as the Collector – really, where are fine actors like him nowadays? And Kunal Kapoor plays Kamla’s husband. All other actors, even if I don’t mention them here were very good.
WTS is an earthy film; it runs on logic and human nature. The villain here is life itself. And we, poor, mortal fools are buffeted this way and that, until we find a way to make peace with our circumstances. WTS has no glitz/glamour, no shiny, happy people, no helicopters, no car-chases, and no oomph-y songs. There are songs, but they fall in the pleasantly rustic category.
What I especially like about the film is that it is very forward-looking. Yes, all (or most films) have heroes doing good, and upholding truth and morality, but few films have the courage to not give in to social mores or hide behind tradition. I haven’t seen enough Benegal films to decide if this is true of all of them, but it is certainly true for both “Hari-bhari” and “WTS”.
WTS it is very approachable, it’s not esoteric or arty, and you don’t need to possess a high IQ to understand it. It is very easy to relate to, interesting and has many facets – comedy, tragedy, pathos, farce and irony (and a scene which steps from innocent love to the mildly erotic). You sympathize with, feel for and laugh at its characters. And while the setting might be different that the one you’re used to, it leaves you entranced nonetheless.
A charming film.
I like. I like very much.