Rohena Gera's debut 96-minute feature, Sir – which played the other day at the Cannes Critics' Week (a sidebar which takes place along with the Cannes Film Festival, but is not part of it) – has an interesting theme. The movie talks about the great class divide in India – a county of 1.3 billion people where about 70 per cent of the wealth is in the hands of one percent!
In Sir, Tillotama Shome (with a fine performance in Anup Singh's Qissa) essays Ratna, a servant working for Ashwin (Vivek Gomber), who belongs to a rich real-estate dealing family in Mumbai. Ratna has arrived in the big city – where dreams are dreamt and where some dreams turn real – with a firm belief that her present job as a domestic help is only a stepping stone to her ambition to become a fashion designer.
While Ratna battles on to learn the basics of stitching and tailoring in her free time (while grappling with the burden of educating her younger sister), Ashwin has just turned his back on his wedding, having literally deserted his girlfriend at the altar because of an affair or fling she has had. A journalist who has come back home to help his father in his business, Ashwin has a strange relationship with Ratna. It is formal, proper and so courteous that I wondered whether there were such households in India, which treated their servants with such unbelievable reverence.
In a razor thin plot, Gera appears to be fighting to tell us something new, something different in each of her scenes. But she fails, with the result that Sir turns out to be frightfully boring with Ratna and Ashwin sharing the most mundane kind of conversation. Shall I lay the table? I will be dining out tonight. Will you have tea? And it goes on like this, but with a kind of politeness from the master (Ashwin) rarely seen in India.
Yes, one may argue that what else can the two talk about. I agree, but this is where good scripting comes in. But Sir has one which is hardly gripping, and tends to be repetitive and even boring. For most part of the movie, there is not even a trace of a dramatic curve – absolutely essential for a narrative if it has to engage its audiences.
We never see Ashwin writing, and his meeting with his mother or father appears too artificial, almost pretentious. And it is only towards the fag end of the film that Ratna and Ashwin strike a conversation, even steal a kiss, and the man realises that he is attracted towards his servant.
But how does he break the social barrier? Gera thinks up of something very simplistic. He returns to America and she gets a job in a fashion designer's boutique. And Sir makes an attempt – though rather feeble – to bridge the divide between Ratna and Ashwin.
However, I must give it to Gera for a lovely climax, and ending it on a note of hope, even joy.
Otherwise, Sir, despite a good performance by Shome, falls rather flat, Gomber's disappointing acting adding to the movie's poor showing. I would think that classics, such as My Fair Lady and Pretty Woman, while tackling social/economic walls had brilliant scripts, which kept my attention riveted. Sir tells a similar story, but in a far less exciting way.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cannes Film Festival for the 29th year, and may be e-mailed at email@example.com )