Keeping “Masaan” or “Newton” aside, can you remember a single film which Bollywood has churned out with a Dalit or a lower caste protagonist as the lead in the last decade? Well, Saif Ali Khan in “Aarakshan” did play the role of a lower caste man, but the film shifted totally to something alien from addressing the caste demons in our society.
Bollywood has this habit of often presenting you the ‘chote saher ka ladka/ladki’ (someone from a small town) but ceases to tell you their caste. Because, duh! Where is the fun in that!
An industry which has negated itself from the most potent and prevailed discourse in the country (surrounding caste), can never produce a film like “Sairat”. And the trailer of “Dhadak” has somewhat assented that.
I agree it is too early to judge the film that is being made by Shashank Khaitan under Karan Johar’s production and it might just surprise us all with the scenic beauty of Udaipur and the acting performances of the products of the N-word; that Karan Johar avoids to spell out these days.
But, what made “Sairat”, a thunderous success is missing all along in the trailer itself. ‘The Female Hero’.
On the surface, the newly launched trailer might promise you a Janhvi Kapoor playing the role of a badass that debutant Rinku Rajguru had played in “Sairat”. But, have a closer look, and you might find it to be just another Romeo Juliet saga packed in a glossy paper bag, manufactured by the guy who has acted in a similar film “Ishaaqzade”; Shashank Khaitan.
The director of “Dhadak” has made films like “Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania” and “Badrinath Ki Dulhania”, with Varun Dhawan in lead. And we all know how feminist these films in their approach were, right!
Shashank and his audience have misread feminism grossly in these earlier films, and I would be shocked if he pulls it off this time around with “Dhadak”.
“Sairat”, the blockbuster Marathi film by Nagraj Manjule on the other hand, is a sharp critic of patriarchy and toxic masculinity in its subtle and moving storytelling. Archana, the female protagonist of the film (played by Rinku Rajguru), is a woman very few Indian films have encountered before. Her persona and presence on screen make you sit right up at your seats and make you follow her in the meadows while she drives her family tractor or to the roads where she dons a bullet with grace. It is refreshing every time to have a look at her handling things ‘like a man’ in the film in any crisis situation that falls upon the couple.
A regional film, making 25 times its investment, shocked everyone in the industry and many other regional industries decided to replicate its success. This is when Karan Johar came into the picture and bought the rights of “Sairat” to make it in Hindi. A filmmaker known for making films like “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham” and “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”, of course, missed the socio-political discourse of “Sairat”. Because “Sairat” has real people, who represent a country along with the Kapoors and Chopras that Karan Johar has represented so far in all his films till date.
Even if “Dhadak” is a ‘rich girl-poor boy’ love story, the trailer looks supremely flawed, thanks to the glossy Manish Malhotra clothes that the characters (the poor boy Ishaan and his friends) wear throughout the trailer. It reaches its non-sensical best when the poor boy rides a bike worth half a million with his beautiful girlfriend in a scenic location in one shot of the trailer.
Only if the makers paid a little attention in understanding what a poor person in this country looks like, they might have averted such massive eyesores in a film that is promising a Romeo-Juliet-esque romance for the nth time in the universe of Hindi films.
Blame it on the low budget or rather meticulous planning of the director, “Sairat” on the contrary, has convincing actors who dress and talk in a way that looks realistic on screen. Right from perfecting mannerisms to encapsulate character traits, every detail is well thought out in this 2016 blockbuster hit.
“Sairat” was fresh because of the agency it gives to the woman protagonist in the film. It is Archi in “Sairat”, who drives the film in every sense. Be it the authority with which she reclaims the village well for a bath from the village boys, or creating ruckus at the police station to let her lover Amit Thosar (Parshya) and his friends escape the police station, Archi proves her control over things over and over again.
In one of my many favourite scenes of the film, where the couple, both working and somehow well-settled according to middle-class societal standards, go look out for a flat for themselves, the true vision of Nagraj comes out. The under-construction flat works as a motif for the under-construction future that they have worked hard so far to achieve. A house to call their own, after the battle that they have had against society, since running from their village, their society and their class and caste. A new beginning, with their child, another metaphor for the future that they want for themselves.
Archi speaks to her mother over the phone, telling her about the life she is leading and probably makes contact for the first time with her family after eloping with Parshya. The brilliance of the scene lies in the conscious choice of the director to not show the other side of the conversation. We get to see Archi’s point of view, her vision of the world she thinks she has built for herself. The perfect world that she thinks is going to change their lives forever, in a hope that the bitterness of the past is gone now. But, as the everlasting speck of caste never leaves a family and its predecessors, Archi’s past was never going to heal.
And showing the conversation from only one perspective, somehow makes the audience wonder why they are not getting the other side. That is made clear in the next sequence when the film’s climax takes place at their rented house.
A cathartic end of hopes pinned so far in the heart’s of the audience, that society will eventually forget and forgive ‘caste-traitors’.
It is the visual language of “Sairat”, and the way it dealt with interjected violence in our everyday lives, that set it apart from the rest.
Now, watch any of the previous films made by the director of “Dhadak” and tell me about any scene that you remember – that tells you whether you’re watching what’s really happening on screen. To make it simple, it speaks to you in between lines. If you can, there are still hopes for a “Dhadak” to be of any substance!
If not, you know what to expect from it!
Having said that, making “Dhadak” is important too. Because thanks to this, more people would know about “Sairat” and might just get to see one of the best pieces of cinema our country has produced in the recent times. Till then, enjoy to the tunes of “Zingat”. But this time, in Hindi.