Sairat is a difficult film to talk about in terms of plot and story because those two elements account for much of what is unique and surprising about the film. For the first two hours it plays out as one might expect, a rollicking romance across social lines.Sairat is filled with all of the elements that bring joy to any Bollywood fan. The characters are charming, the songs and music from Ajay-Atul are infectious and impeccably crafted, and the romance progresses at a socially acceptable pace, even as the pair fight to keep it secret.
However, it isn’t what you expect, or even what you think you see in Sairat that makes it so exceptional. As I was watching the film I thought to myself around the hundred minute mark that this might be one of the greatest love stories I’ve seen in a decade. Mainstream Bollywood wishes it could craft stories so comfortably familiar but imbued with the unbridled enthusiasm that only comes from young love. They wish they had music as powerful as this remarkable score from Ajay-Atul that supports the emotional weight of this story without feeling trite or reheated. They wish they had young talent like Thosar and Rajguru to pull it all off as though they were born into these roles.
But they don’t.
Sairat is an overwhelming and exciting experience from the word go. Even as Parshya and Archie are eventually caught in each others arms and their romance goes from secret and small to the stuff nightmares are made of, the feeling remains. Even as Archie’s parents demand not only that she stop seeing him, but also that he and his entire family are punished for their transgressions, we are ensured that there will be joy, there will be love, it’s just out of sight, around the next corner.
That’s the power of these characters, this story, and this experience. That hope would be enough. It would have been enough for the film to follow through on the romance of Parshya and Archie and to see them through to their happily-ever-after. It’s what they want, it’s what the audience wants, it’s what we feel we deserve after having cheered for these two through their trials for two hours. But Manjule has other ideas, and where he goes with Sairat beyond that that happily-ever-after is what makes this film special and unique.
From the point at which the intermission promises the audience hope as these determined lovers attempt to break free, through to the final credits, Sairat stops caring about what the audience wants. The film breaks itself free from the oppressive constraints of expectation, it challenges the audience to follow through on that happily-ever-after. It challenges the audience to live with its heroes as they attempt to do what they thought they really wanted. It gives us hope, it gives us pain, it crushes our spirit, only to raise it back up. It doesn’t give the audience what it wants, it gives the audience what it needs. That is the true beauty of Sairat.
Everything about Sairat is exceptional. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would say that Manjule only made this film to show Bollywood what a piss poor job they’ve been doing all of these years. Manjule challenges the audience at every turn to accept his demands of them. Follow me here, deal with this abrupt tone change, look into the life you wished for, is it everything you wanted?
He takes the demands of the audience, the wish for a beautiful resolution to Parshya and Archie’s romance, and acquiesces to it, but not without asking for something in return. You must follow through. You wanted them to be free, you wanted their love to survive, now, you must watch what that means.
At every turn, Manjule takes the audience’s expectations and demands and gives them what they want without caring about how they want it. It’s amazingly bold and confident filmmaking that should make every other filmmaker nervous and inspired at the same time. Manjule knows what the audience wants and he knows exactly how to deliver it, but he also knows what the audience needs, and that’s what he’s determined to deliver.
Sairat is astonishing filmmaking, from the joyous opening frames all the way through to the breathtaking conclusion. You will never see it coming, but you’ll also never forget it, and that’s the sign of a true classic.