Film: Welcome to Sajjanpur
Banner: UTV SpotBoy
Producer: Ronnie Screwvala & Zarina Mehta
Director: Shyam Benegal
Cast: Shreyas Talpade, Amrita Rao, Ila Arun, Divya Dutta, Kunal Kapoor, Ravi Kishan, Rajeshwari Sachdev, Ravi Jhankal and Yashpal Sharma
It is not very often that films are made with great passion and intent and put on a plate to be consumed by an audience. It can simply be said to like a movie such as this you need to understand where it stems from. Neither is it your run of the mill boy loves girl; enter a phony villain type of movie nor a film about the exploration of a foreign land and a few actors thrown in. A movie such as this takes us back to a time when cinema was meant and is supposed to be representative of happenings in a society. Welcome to Sajjanpur is exactly that, a well etched satire of sorts about things on and gone in a land we call our own.
The film tells the story of characters in a village called Sajjanpur, namely Mahadev (Talpade). Educated enough to want to be a novelist, Mahadev is reduced to writing letters for his fellow villagers. It is through him that the audience meets day to day characters, such as Kamala (Rao) a devoted wife waiting ardently for her husband Bansi’s (Kapoor) return. Then there’s Mausi (Arun) a god fearing, superstitious lady who believes inane rites will rid her daughter of bad omen and Vindhya (Dutta), her daughter who sees no sense in all of it and wants nothing but some freedom. Through Madhadev we catch a glimpse of Ramkumar’s (Kishan) undying love for the lonesome widow Shobharani (Sachdev). Mahadev’s larger than life character takes us up close to watch Bai (Ravi Jhankal), a eunuch fighting for her rights to stand up in the local elections and Ramsingh (Sharma) a goon of sorts, ensuring it never happens.
On the surface there is nothing more than a connected plot and a film about Mahadev and the villagers. Much like Shankar Nag’s Malgudi Days or even Sanjay Jha’s Praan Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye, this film too is tidbits of a lot many things, but then it elevates itself from that status once the movie has passed the interval point. Look closely and all the issues that have made the headlines in the last few years have been addressed fiercely in the film. Be it issues such as the changing phase of rights deprivation for eunuchs in this democratic country, to the insane manner in which superstition finds it way into culture and rituals, even widow remarriage or even a burning issue such as falsifying Candidate elections in bureaucracy. All the film needs is for you to open your eyes and look beyond the obvious.
Having said that, it is however sad that a film such as this, addressing these issues is solely strung by the performance of its characters and one off links and not by a chord that is strong and consistent. The film in effort of providing details of its characters delves into one too many flashbacks, reshuffling time as we know it. And if that’s not all, a punch that could have done a scene good is stretched into a full blown fight, that is to say the film is lengthened without doing it any good. Like the scene when the snake charmer visits Mahadev for the first time, the conversation seems endless only for it to be elongated the second time he visits. The film, in order to get you in touch with the village folk, has random scenes that come and go, which in all honesty does nothing for to take the screenplay forward.
Another aspect that is a let down is the use of music. A peppy song like Sita Ram Sita Ram is wasted at the beginning while it could have been a breather for the audience when the film’s pace slows. Similarly the melodious track Bheeni Bheeni is lost in the proceeding of the film. However, the use of Ek Meetha Marz throughout the film is outstanding, especially when the song begins to take shape in the form of scenes in the course of the film.
The film deserves due credit for the level of perfection that is achieved in terms of detailing. Simple things like costumes, to the change in Mahadev’s rate card as the movies progresses are all well done. Sadly, even though the character’s dialect is as authentic as it can be and well rendered by all of them, the stereotyping that has been projected in films of the past makes us ponder about the geographic location of Sajjanpur and its people. This is no gaffe that the film has but for the effect of many distressing films in the past that have stereotyped accents and dialects.
While the camerawork is superior, the editing is not the best. One of the best scenes in visual terms is the scene where Rao enters Mahadev’s home to be yelled at by his mother and later greeted by Mahadev. Very simply the camera follows the characters’ movements. This simple scene is effective and looks wonderful, echoing the simplicity of the characters. The dialogue writer should be given credit for writing some of the zestiest lines, packed with great sarcasm and humour. A film like this proves the knowledge and mastery of art that Benegal possesses. Kudos to UTV for producing such a film.
Where the acting is concerned Talpade shines through and through. It is his film and he grabs it proving his prowess of the skill. Rao and Dutta put up solid performances as well. However Arun and Jhankal are outstanding and will be long remembered after the film is over. Sachdev, Sharma, Kishan and Kapoor are OK. At times the zing in their characters seems missing.
All one can say is that you are missing the revival of the medium that once represented the actions of a nation. If you like being invigorated, watch this film… if not the next ersatz lovey-dovey film is not too far off.