Director Rohena Gera says she wanted to explore the story of class divide with "Sir" through love as she believes that when two people fall for each other, everything else, including the societal divide, blurs.
The Mumbai-set film probes the relationship between the scion of a real-estate family and a live-in maid who cooks and cleans for him. Calling herself a "big believer of love stories", Gera recalled growing up with a "built in injustice" that Indian homes have towards domestic help.
When she thought of addressing this segregation of "two worlds within one home" in the form of a script, she gravitated towards a love story. "When you're talking about a class story, it can follow the cliches of being preachy, telling people what to think or somehow being holier than thou. I didn't want to do that because I don't have the answers. Of course, there's power dynamics, huge injustice, but I didn't want to talk about it in that way," the director told PTI in an interview.
"In a true love story, people are equal, because no matter how rich you are, if the person you love doesn't love you back, you have nothing. So I thought love was a great equaliser and we break out of the victim-oppressor thing... Through love, you can see the world differently." When she began scripting "Sir" in 2014, Gera was fresh off her documentary "What's Love Got to Do with It?", an exploration of Indian marriages through the stories of eight people.
Her ideas of love and what it means to different people set the tone to finish the script of the film by the end of 2016, she said. "I would always think about these two worlds within one home because I've always had help in my house. I was aware, even as a child and a grown-up, about the intimacy you share with someone. Even the woman working for me, who'd always know if I had a bad day or if I was stressed out.
"She'd tiptoe around, feel I didn't eat properly because maybe I had a bad mood. I always thought about this intimacy, this kind of closeness that you share but always maintain a decorum. Her reality is so different from mine but we have this closeness, there's a real bond." Gera, who started her screenwriting career with popular TV show "Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin" which ran for three years till 2006, then thought of her two central characters, Ratna and Ashwin who embark on a relationship.
"I thought that's an interesting thing to take on and talk about this intimacy, and (wonder) why it is so impossible in our minds. When I thought about it even I went 'Oh but that would be impossible?' and then felt, 'but why?'. We have talked about everything else: same-sex stories, caste, inter-religion stories, so why is this subject taboo?" The film follows Tillotama Shome as Ratna, a young woman who dreams of becoming a tailor while working as a maid and Ashwin, played by Vivek Gomber, the cynical son of a wealthy family.
People may have dubbed her film as a "modern-day Cinderella" story but, Gera said, unlike the fairytale, the heroine isn't waiting for a prince to rescue her. "Ratna is her own saviour, she's a strong, dynamic woman. If anyone is saved, it's him (Ashwin)! We have an idea of privilege and happiness going together. But the man is lonely, he has given up on his dreams.
"She has got nothing in her bank account but she has dreams. The film plays with the idea of what happiness and true privilege mean." The director was aware that directing a story of class divide can lead to it being looked at from a privileged gaze, something she steered clear of by being honest to the reality.
"The class system is so present in our lives, I just had to be honest to how things are and try not to caricaturise them. I was careful of that... It is a privileged gaze to some extent. His character is the character that I get. It was about learning to see differently through him.
"I have tried to be as honest as I could to Ratna's character, who I've felt close to because I've had that intimacy with women who have worked with me," she said. "Sir" is scheduled to be released on March 20.
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