I was afraid Tillotama Shome might refuse 'Sir' because of 'Monsoon Wedding': Director Rohena Gera

WION Web Team
New DelhiWritten By: Sameeksha DandriyalUpdated: Nov 13, 2020, 04:17 PM IST

Photograph:(WION Web Team)

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'Sir', starring Tillotama Shome, Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni had its World Premiere at the 71st International Cannes Film Festival, in 2018, in the Critics Week competition section making Rohena Gera the first woman filmmaker to bag Gan Foundation Award for distribution.

Rohena Gera’s internationally acclaimed debut feature, ‘Sir’  is in the theatres for a post-pandemic release.

The film, starring Tillotama Shome, Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni had its World Premiere at the 71st International Cannes Film Festival, in 2018, in the Critics Week competition section making Rohena Gera the first woman filmmaker to bag Gan Foundation Award for distribution.

Talking about the delay in the release of the film, the director, tells WION, "I made the film for India and then it had a crazy international response, from where it got picked up for distribution in many other countries. I got busy travelling and wanted to give proper time to its India release."

The film initially aimed for a March 20 release this year, however, the pandemic followed by a nation-wide lockdown forced its release to shift to November 13. "It's finally out and I hope the government keeps the theatres open till then," quips Rohena. 

Before 'Sir', Rohena directed a documentary, 'What's Love Got to Do?', a piece that questioned the idea of arranged marriages. On the concept of the docu-film, Rohena says, "I love love-stories. Films that question the idea of love-stories in urban spaces. People like us, urban people, would watch all kind of love-stories but still opt for arranging marriages.' What's Love' raised a basic question, is love more important or is the arrangement more important."

Carrying on her love for romantic stories, Gera says, "In this film when you say is love enough, it's really about if love can overcome barriers. The film really appeals to the best in us."

The director has a really interesting way to look at romance and calls love 'an equaliser'. "What I love about love-stories is that when you are in love with a person you automatically sees the other person's point of view. When you fall in love with a person different from you, you get an exposure to see the world from a completely different perspective. There's real beauty in that idea of enriching your life through a love story."

Produced by Inkpot Films (Brice Poisson and Rohena Gera), and co-produced by Ciné-Sud Promotion, the film is a story of a Marathi widowed domestic worker who finds a complicated romantic spark with her recently single employer who’s just returned from the US after breaking off his engagement.  

Speaking about the birth of the film, Gera elaborates, "We have a very intimate relationship with people who work at our homes, they know almost all our life's details, yet there's a distance with which we treat them. This is something that has always bothered me. I wanted to make a film that could address the class-difference, without being preachy."

So what made her turn to a love-story? The director answers, "Probably because of 'What's love' and working on the idea of love, I decided to approach this difference through a love story. In a love-story, two people are pretty much equal. However rich or poor you may be, if a person you love, doesn't love you back, it doesn't matter what you have in your bank account. So, I thought it was a nice way to make each character equal and then to explore what is the barrier actually. Love-story was a way to approach the class difference in a gentle way. "

Tillotama, who essayed the role of the house Alice in Mira Nair's 'Monsoon Wedding', was Gera's choice for protagonist Ratna for several reasons, however, the director was a little sceptical over getting a positive reply from her initially. Recalling the thought, she says, "Tillotama is a wonderful actress. She's also extremely hardworking and sincere. 'Monsoon Wedding' was a big fear for me because I was afraid she would reject the film in order to not be typecast. But, she read the script, liked the role and wrote back, sounding all excited. 

"I think she's the right person for the film because the portrayal of Ratna is a complex one. She's a happy character, but she's not a stupid-happy character. She's an optimistic person but she's had a tough life. There's a level of complexity that Tillotama can bring to a role, where she maintains a dignity required by the character.", she adds

When it comes to sensitive issues, there's a risk of misrepresentation that a maker might face. On being asked if she feared misappropriating the class-difference, Gera answers, "She's convincing as a domestic worker. Tillotama is very sensitive to misrepresentation and careful about misappropriation. For me, it's about being sensitive while writing. I've written the film quite carefully so as to not talk down in any way to the character."

Elaborating on the same lines with a gendered example, Gera feels that its similar issue for women's character to be written from a woman's perspective. She says "It so happens that there are times when there are men writing women's characters. Someone asked me about the idea of Cinderella yesterday if I was writing an anti-Cinderella story. But, Cinderella never entered my mind, I'm a woman writing about a woman. I'm not waiting for somebody to come and save her."

"The fundamental structure of a man saving a woman has not come from a woman writer. Along the way, who wrote those fairy-tales. those stories?" she asks. 

The onset of the pandemic and shutting down of cinema halls has seen a larger chunk of production houses and independent films move to streaming platforms. Countering the perception of festival films are meant for a niche audience, Gera wants 'Sir' to reach a larger audience, the people it's actually meant for.

 She feels that when a film directly goes to a streamer, its relation with the audience is mediated.  "I have been fighting for the film to not just be shown to a selective, subscriber-based audience of OTT platforms. I wanted it to be released for a larger theatre audience, where people choose to go and see a film and not just stumble upon it while scrolling. I want to face the feedback, to see if the audience get what I was trying to convey or not. Which is a bit difficult from the privilege, targetted audience", she adds.

Gera, now out with her maiden feature film has already started working on her next project. "There's a silver lining of COVID. Once the release got pushed and I flew back to France, to be with my family. I had enough time to start working on a new project." she quips.

However, she is quick to add, "After international recognition, you have constant doubt, self-censorship if your next will be good enough. There's a certain expectation attached to you, which you try and fulfil."

'Sir' is among the top 5 highest-grossing Indian films released theatrically in France including 'Salaam Bombay' and 'The Lunchbox'. The film has released theatrically in more than 25 countries across the world and has garnered critical acclaim and popular success.