Friday, October 03, 2008

Welcome to Sajjanpur

Like every year, this year too, my birthday was more or less predictable: greetings from friends and family members, a treat at a restaurant, some moments of reflection at the end of the day. The best part of my birthday was the surprise the movie Welcome to Sajjanpur had for me - it was such a different movie from Benegal! A Shyam Benegal film is something I'd always look forward to - but this time it made my day special - it's such a lovely, enjoyable movie coming from the master storyteller! Shreyas Talpade in this stellar role and Amrita Rao as the female lead reminded me of another hit pair of the 80s- Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval.

Hilarious, yet heartrending at the same time, this effortless and breezy style of comedy - with a strong social message though , makes an apt satirical comment on the present day Indian village. Comedy as a genre is skillfully handled, so deftly that all the harshness of human condition is neatly hidden behind the humor, thus unleashing the power of cinema as a medium that can effectively convey meaningful messages .A village with 0% literacy cannot be a figment of someone's imagination, it's indeed a sad reflection on how we are still grappling with problems like illiteracy even after six decades of independence (where literacy is equated with being able to put one's signature on paper).

The ease with which the story develops, meanders and flows through the people and their lives in this village never leaves a dull moment even as it makes you think while laughing out loud. Be it - the rubber snake carried by the snake charmer in the background of the government banning cruelty on animals, the Sarpanch bullying Mahadev, Kamala's surprise when she receives a reply from Bansi or Munnibai's ability to sign on the paper as against the former Sarpanch who cares two hoots about literacy, or when he meets Mahadev asking him to write a letter to the collector requesting for safety. In fact, the down-to-earth depiction of social reality can beat any big budget block buster in its entertainment value (only limiation is its Hindi dialect).

It is interesting to see how the present day disillusionment is turned into a delightfully entertaining story, told in a lighter vein, reflecting on the lopsidedness of so-called development and its social agenda. Amazingly, there 's not a single instance of preachy sermons and long drawn, patronizing monlogues on how things should change etc etc. All the same it's so contemporary - SEZ, Singur, nuclear policy, a eunuch winning elections, people blinded by superstitions - you find all of them etched, tacitly or explicitly, on the canvas where the protagonist, who has the rare distinction of being a graduate earns his living by writing letters, by helping people and 'manipulate' their for social good.
There could be several Sajjanpurs in India. If we believe that movies have the potential to become change agents, this could be one of them!
Disclaimer: This is not intended to be a review of the movie.

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