Sir (2018)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Director
Rohena Gera
Run Time
1 hour and 39 minutes
Rating
Not Rated

VP Content Ratings

Violence
0/10
Langage
0/10
Sex & Nudity
2/10
Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Then he began his teaching by saying to them, “How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs! “How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort! “Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them! “Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied! “Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them! “Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God! “Happy are those who make peace, for they will be sons of God! 

Matthew 5:2-9
At first the morose Ashwin barely notices his servant Ratna. (c) Netflix

You don’t have to be a romantic to love director/writer Rohena Gera’s gently paced story of love between an upper class Indian man and a young widowed servant. This French/Indian production is set mostly in a modern apartment in Mumbai, but the question it raises in its tag line “Is Love Enough” is universal. The slow way in which Ms. Gera reveals the past of the two protagonists and the growing embers of their mutual attraction will appeal to all who cherish restraint and subtlety in their film fare. In addition, it is an insightful study of class attitudes designed to show who is at the top and who is below.

Ratna (Tillotama Shome) has met the sad fate of all too many young Indian women living in its villages. Just four months after her parents married her off—one less mouth to feed—her husband died, reducing her to the lowest status. To escape her harsh situation she has come to the city and found work as the housekeeper/cook of the son of a wealthy builder of Ashwin (Vivek Gomber). Though her life is hemmed in by her duties, she feels freer than had she stayed in the village. She is able to send home money for the family and for her sister to go to school.

Ashwin  has just returned from a several year stint in America where he had enjoyed a writing career. He had returned home due to the illness of his brother, who succumbs. He had been scheduled to marry his girlfriend Sabina, but upon discovering her affair with another man, and also realizing he did not really love her, Ashwin had called the wedding off. His father and mother are upset by his decision at the last moment, but he refuses their entreaties to reconsider. (We do not learn all this at once, but only a fact or two at a time. This is a film demanding patience.)

The morose man barely notices his servant as she brings him water or lemonade or copes with cooking his breakfasts and suppers. A vegetarian, Ratna must learn a whole new way of cooking. He is so down in the dumps that about the only words uttered between them start with her questions about his wants, always beginning with “Sir.” He does thank her for each service, but it is perfunctory, spoken out of habit.

Ratna does have a dream of ascending beyond a life of servitude. Her schooling had been ended by her marriage, so now she wants to learn the tailoring trade so as to become even more independent—indeed, later we see her sights are even higher, she wants to become  designer. Ashwin’s questioning her about this at first leads to her believing that he is making fun of her for aiming so high. However, she does secure his permission to become a tailor’s intern after she has finished her housework. Later he tries to make up for hurting her feelings by giving her a fashion magazine, telling her that all those designing clothing read it.

Ratna’s internship turns out to be disappointing, the man on her first day telling her to clean up the dirty loft so cramped she has to stoop over. During subsequent sessions he keeps putting off her requests to learn from him. Realizing he is using her only for cheap labor, she quits.

Perhaps the first sign of a bond developing between them is when Ratna. Answering the calls of his nagging mother (Divya Seth Shah), tells her he is not at home—and, of course, he sits just a few feet from her. After a long period of dealing with his morbid mood, one day she reveals in a spew of words uncharacteristic of her meekness:

 Ratna: Sir, you must be aware that four months after my wedding, my husband passed away.
Ashwin: Sorry… no… I didn’t know.
Ratna: He was sick. He didn’t tell anyone. Parents are always in such a hurry to get us married. It’s the same in the village. I wanted to study, but the groom’s family were willing to take me without any dowry, so my father didn’t ask any questions. I became a widow at the age of 19. Do you know what that means in the village ? Your life is over. But today I’m earning my own money. I am a servant, but I can educate Choti.

Ashwin: Choti is your sister ?

Yes Sir. Life doesn’t end, Sir. That’s all I wanted to say.

Thus, along with aspiring to a higher status in life, Ratna presumes to offer encouragement to one most would consider her superior. And by most, this includes her fellow servants, her friend Laxmi (Geetanjali Kulkarni) who drives Ratna through the crowded city streets on her errands, and the front doorman who loans them his bike. Ashwin’s parents scarcely notice the girl—there is a telling scene at a crowded dinner party wherein the camera follows the back of Ratna’s head as she moves about the room carrying a tray of drinks for the guests. Some ignore her entirely, and those who take a glass never look at her or say “Thanks.” She and several other servants are fed their supper, but they eat sitting on the kitchen floor—and as always, use their fingers rather than utensils. They become upset when Ashwin makes the faux pas of asking if he should wait and give her a ride after they clean up the premise.

The camera often highlights the isolation that both characters feel by showing several times Ashwin brooding alone on his couch, and on the other side of the wall Ratna sitting alone on her bed. Just when we think he might take more notice of her, after presenting her with a wonderful gift, he goes out to a bar with a friend and picks up a woman who has been eyeing him. Ratna is quite startled the next morning when the woman emerges from the bedroom and asks for water. Dressed in a stylish miniskirt as she emerges from his bedroom the next morning, she makes quite a contrast to Ratna, dressed in her traditional sari.

Apparently Ashwin’s was a one night affair, because he continues to show attention to Ratna, wearing to work the shirt that she makes for him as a birthday present; giving her not only time off to attend her sister’s wedding, but even insisting she accept a gift of money for the sister. When she expresses her disappointment that her sister also is giving up her dream of finishing her education, Ashwin replies that maybe her husband will be a good man and allow her to complete them. And he calls Ratna at her home to see how she is faring. Of course, Ashwin does develop a love for his servant and one night moves to kiss her. Most Hollywood movies would unleash the violins, and the pair would be stripping off their clothing in a rush toward an R rating bedroom scene, or to show intensity of pent-up feelings, atop a table. It is the practical-minded Ratna who cools the idealistic Ashwin to realize the futility of furthering their relationship. All their friends, both hers and his, she knows full well would condemn them. She fears that her brother would come and seize her, dragging her by her hair back to the confinement of their parents’ house and cloistered village life. The youg woman has internalized how society regards her, resisting Ashwin’s invitation to address him other than by “Sir.”

When Ashwin’s friend suspects he is in love with his servant, he lectures him on the impossibility of such a relationship. Ratna herself decides to leave because he keeps pressing her with his love. This is when we really see that this young woman is an exemplar of the qualities espoused in the Beatitudes: as they discuss that one of the consequences of their relationship would be the severance of his relationship with his mother, she says that she would not want to do that, to cause her such suffering.

Ratna leaves, asking her sister, now married and living in Mumbai for lodging. She has been attending a class in tailoring and manages to obtain a position with a fashion designer who is one of Ashwin’s friends. Ashwin, telling his father he wants to go back to New York City to resume his writing career leaves the country. Apparently wanting to tell Ashwin about her good fortune, Ratna returns to the apartment. She is disappointed to see a padlock on the door. Going up to the roof where the two had spent an enjoyable evening talking beneath the stars, she receives a phone call. You can imagine who it is, and you will love how she addresses him, now that with her independence and new-found vocation she has gained a sense of her self-worth. We do not know what he future holds in store for either, separated by thousands of miles of ocean, but we are given a glimmer of hope, not much brighter than the stars above her head, but nonetheless discernible.

This review will be in the July issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

 

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