Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Welcome to Sajjanpur — a welcome change
When you are living away from home and surviving on bad restaurant food, it takes a day or two to get used to meals cooked by your mother once again, in my experience. Your palate has been abused so much by all the impersonal dishes you have been served that good, wholesome food takes a while to digest.
Shyam Benegal’s “Welcome to Sajjanpur” is that wholesome fare that has been missing from your palate.
The film has no foreign locales, no scantily clad heroines and no dynamic heroes. It takes some getting used to, given the kind of films one is subjected to frequently. But once you do get into the groove, it’s an enjoyable ride.
Mahadev, the protagonist of the film, lives in Sajjanpur (a village in north India) and is one of its few literate residents. Unable to find any gainful employment in the city, he returns home and takes on the job of writing letters for the village folk.
From love letters to threatening ones, he pens them all for the villagers and thus becomes privy to their deepest secrets. Amrita Rao plays Kamala, Mahadev’s secret crush who comes to him for solace as she waits for her husband to return from the city. Mahadev, blinded by love, tries to manipulate her marriage through his letters, thereby allowing Benegal to show us that his hero does have some flaws.
Whether it is the rough politician, or the harassed mother worried about her daughter’s marriage (Ila Arun, in a brilliant cameo), or the worried wife waiting for her husband’s return, all the characters are presented with some nuance and their idiosyncrasies bring a smile to your face.
Yet, Benegal also makes some pertinent points on the burning issues of the day – be it criminalisation of politics, the migrant problem in cities, caste based killings or the big industrialisation debate. There is no heavy-handed preaching though, it is all done with a smile on the face, which is what makes it endearing.
Don’t expect a dedicated storyline, because this is more of stringing together of many sub plots. One film that comes to mind is the Marathi language “Valu”, which also showcases rural life in pretty much the same light-hearted way that “Sajjanpur” does.
The film works partly because of the brilliant cast, led by Shreyas Talpade. It’s difficult to say which is his better performance – “Sajjapur” or “Iqbal”. Amrita Rao is demure and animated, and does a good job. And so does Yashpal Sharma as the thug politician. Watch it, you might be surprised.