Rohena Gera’s ‘Sir’ tells the tale of an unrequited love through the prism of class division

The film not only explores a forbidden relationship between a domestic help and her employer, but also puts forth a question: “Is love enough?”

A lonely, affluent businessman finds comfort and solace in his live-in maid. And the maid, a widowed young woman, shares the same feeling towards her employer but is torn between the societal right and wrong. Rohena Gera’s Is Love Enough? Sir – starring Tillotama Shome and Vivek Gomber is such a unique tale of love – between a domestic help and her employer.

Even before the film, set in present day Mumbai, was released in India – it created waves at various international film festivals like Cannes, New York Film Festival, Festival World Cinema Amsterdam, among others. Sir released in over 25 countries, including Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland. Actor Tillotama Shome, who plays the maid Ratna in the film, has also been honoured with the Best Actress Award at the New York Film Festival. At the same festival, the film was also bestowed with the Best Film Award.

All the acclaim that the film has received is definitely worth it, because it touches upon a topic which most makers would shy away from even discussing in the open. Gera, here, not only attempts to tell the tale of a forbidden love between Ratna and her employer Ashwin. But she also puts forth a question: “Is love enough?”

Vivek Gomber and Tillotama Shome in a still from Is Love Enough? Sir

And this makes us think whether love is actually enough for two people to end up together, especially in a society like ours – which differentiates and divides people based on class, caste, belief, financial background and more. This is what makes the film more than just a story of unrequited love.

The way Sir depicts the invisible barriers that exist between Ratna and Ashwin (even when they live under the same roof, and feel for each other) – the ones created by society, is subtle and never in your face. Be it how Ashwin’s friends treat her like she doesn’t exist, at times reducing Ratna to a passive object at his home – or just a spectator of what unfolds in Ashwin’s life. Or be it when she fails to comprehend his true feelings for her, instead goes by the societal narrative that ‘a man like him can never fall for a “lowly” maid like her.’ And this thought is engraved in Ratna’s mind so deeply, that it seems like nothing and no one – not even Ashwin, can change it.

This isn’t the first time Indian cinema has explored such a topic on-screen. Rather, it was Shyam Benegal’s Ankur (1974) which depicted an illicit affair between a wealthy landlord and his domestic help. Ankur, like Sir, also portrays the intersections of caste and class in our society. But thereafter, not many films on this topic have been successful in portraying this taboo topic keeping societal differences as the backdrop.

A Hindi feature that stands out in this regard is Netflix’s Lust Stories. The anthology’s first story – directed by Zoya Akhtar – showcases a physical relationship between a maid (played by Bhumi Pednekar) and her employer (Neil Bhoopalam). Though apparently it looks like it’s just two consenting adults indulging in intimacy from time to time, it’s more than what meets the eye. The maid, even when she falls for the employer and breaks her heart when she sees him with another woman, understands the walls that exist between the two.

It’s the same invisible wall that was there between Ashwin and Ratna. The same one that exists between us and our house helps, the one that makes us keep a distance from the ones who drives us to office, who cooks for us or who took care of us when we were kids.

Here’s when Gera’s film Sir reminds us of something deeper – something that exists beyond right and wrong. And this gives us hope of a society free from such distinctions; as the filmmaker rightly said in an interview with a website:  “I don’t know how people will take that. I think it will make some people extremely uncomfortable, which isn’t a bad thing. But I think it will give others hope.”

Is Love Enough? Sir is now streaming on Netflix

(Cover: Poster of Is Love Enough? Sir)

 

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