The central plot of Nagraj Popatrao Manjule’s debut, Fandry, was about a young Dalit boy liking a Brahmin girl. He only eyed her. He wrote letters too but those letters never reached her. Whereas she, oblivious of his liking for her, never even acknowledged his presence around her. They never talked to each other. Sairat, Manjule’s second, is about what if they had talked, what if those letters were read by her, what if they both liked each other. The caste conflict is still very much a part of the picture but we are more invested in the love story this time. It is Fandry turned inside out.
The girl, here, is Archana Patil – a Patil, upper-caste. The boy is Prashant Kale – not the lowest of the low caste of pig-hunters but still lower than Patils. Her nickname is an English Archie; his is colloquial Prashya. The upper-class entitlement bestowed on her has made her grow up like a “boy” – she rides a bullet, scooter, even tractor. She is feisty – continues to stare at him fearlessly during lecture. He is more shy – gets uncomfortable by her staring; hides in the home when she is at his doorstep. She is average in studies; he is a top-scorer.
We are taken through the stages of their teenage love from infatuation to can’t-live-without-each-other love. He first eyes her, dreams of her, bribes kids with cream biscuits and ice-creams for delivering her letters, till he hears “I Love You” from her and they both go for their escapades. More than the “story”, we are taken through the emotions… waiting for your crush to enter the classroom will take you back to your college days. The two-minute slo-mo dream sequence from Fandry is blown into a near two-hour (the first half of the film) operatic musical narrative (magnificent Ajay-Atul) and visuals with ethereality and colours of Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
The second half of the film is where everything cinematic about their love story ends and they see the reality. They land in an alien space – Hyderabad. They have escaped from being guillotined by casteism, or at least they think so, but now have to face other harsh realities of life. From lying under the open sky, they have entered into closed spaces. Sweeping shots have now turned into long staid shots and tighter close-ups. Musical has turned into cinéma vérité.
They love each other but now they have to live with each other. For Parshya, nothing much has changed. He has always been earning to live. Their role reversal still continues… it is Parshya who is doing the cleaning and cooking, trying to make their home. Though Archie had a home named after her, she doesn’t know how to make one. This hut is not her home. Her only effort to make it one is by putting up a poster on one of the walls of tin-sheets that reminds her of her lush home back in rural Maharashtra.
Living together, for them, is more like living with themselves. We see it is not easy for Archie to first even step out and then learn the job, while we see Parshya chopping onions at the food stall like a pro. Warming up to this new world has robbed Archie of what she inherited from her position in her earlier world – power. Being the princess of her home, she had internalised her power status for her freedom, unlike her brother called Prince whom we can see growing into an oppressive king. She, like a benevolent queen (or we should call her king, as she was very much a “man” in her village), orders Parshya and his friend to call their other crippled friend by his name and not as “crippled”. It was this power of her – for Parshya, power of love – that he starts calling the crippled friend Pradeep even unconsciously. Here, she is getting slapped by Parshya (for suspicion, typical of young couples), and she doesn’t give him back.
It takes a while for Archie to get her power back. They learn to live with each other after they realise that they really can’t live without each other. They get married. They now have a kid. She is back on scooter. Yet the danger hasn’t stopped looming over their head. We can sense that. First when she calls her mother back home to make her hear their son talk. There is no intercuts between the two, unlike how regular phone conversations are shot, staying true to the vérité style and creating a doubtful thought in our minds by showing only Archie’s part of the conversation. Then, the doubt gets stronger as we see a dark shadow hovering over her white rangoli. Then, almost a rubber stamp, as we jump to see the child entering their home alone. We saw the horror coming. We now see it through child’s eyes. Manjule transforms the horror in that scene into a poetic image. Devoid of background music, it is chilling enough. This silent image fades into the black, just like how the film had opened. Only difference is that it opened with the commentary on an on-going cricket match, it ends with a silent one… on society.