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Welcome to Sajjanpur – Movie Review

September 24, 2008

I was disappointed in Welcome to Sajjanpur. I was expecting more from Shyam Benegal. I found the movie quite “bollywood” – not only was the story contrived, there were too many songs and even two dream sequences! I hated those dream sequences where two ordinary village folk suddenly metamorphose into actors out of a bollywood movie! I know why I went to see Welcome to Sajjanpur and it certainly wasn’t to see dream sequences. During the second one I almost walked out of the cinema hall. I doubt whether these tactics to garner audiences really work. Such a movie ends up pleasing no one. I can enjoy a Bollywood musical immensely, but it has to fit with the treatment of the movie and the story. Here it doesn’t fit. It jars.

What’s the movie about?
The story takes place in the village of Sajjanpur. Everything is authentic, the rustic characters, the scenery, the slice of life sequences…that is the charm of the movie. If someone is not familiar with village life, then it may be quite an education but I think most Indians have an idea of what life is like in a village. Too much time is spent show-casing village life and less in getting on with the story.

But yes, the scenes, the humour, it was all good. Even the slow pace of the movie seemed to fit.

The story (no spoilers)
The story is about Mahadev (Shreyas Talpade) with ambitions of being a novelist. He can’t find a job after graduation and therefore comes back to Sajjanpur to become a letter writer. He is indeed a very good one, having been bestowed with a great imagination. During the course of his work, Mahadev comes across interesting people and becomes privy to their secrets. The movie is about how he handles the information…not always honestly.

This gives the director an opportunity to show us fascinating vignettes of people and even if it doesn’t go into making a coherent plot, it is all quite charming.

Two love stories are woven into the movie, one of Mahadev’s infatuation with a married woman Kamala (Amrita Rao) and the other of a village compounder’s (Ravi Kishan) love for a widow (Rajeshwari Sachdeva). The story takes place around the time of an upcoming election for the village panchayat and this gives a political overtone to the movie. It is interesting to see what happens during the elections, and while one reads about these things, seeing it dramatized it another matter altogether.

The movie is not well edited, and the songs (at least 5-6) are superfluous. Some scenes are repetitive. The movie would have been hard-hitting and absorbing if it had been just one and a half hour long (instead of two and a half), because the content is good, even without a strong plot. That is an achievement in itself.

Is the movie realistic?
Not at all. The subject, the title, the director’s name, all lull us into thinking that we are about to see some realism. But alas, no. It’s not just the silly romantic capers of the two couples that are irritating, it is also how the movie ends. Mahadev does something pretty ridiculous at the end (to atone for a mistake he commits) and in this type of movie it’s difficult to get that suspension from disbelief feeling. The last 10-15 minutes of the film are laughable. There is an attempt to tie up the loose ends (its all about vignettes, remember?) and we are “told” what happens to certain characters. The loose ends are tied together most unconvincingly, and the ending just doesn’t go with what has gone before. It seems manipulated.

The characters and actors
I thought Shreyas Talpade’s acting was average and outright bad in places. He looks the part to perfection though and had mastered the accent required. Amrita Rao does a better job, although I don’t think she is suited to the role. Dressing someone up as a village belle isn’t enough, the actress needs to have the look of one. The actors who did an outstanding job were four – Yashpal Sharma who plays a politician, Ravi Kishan who plays the compounder, Ila Arun who plays the part of a superstitious mother and Ravi Jhankal who is a eunuch.

Should you see this movie?
If you admire Shyam Benegal I guess you would want to, but be prepared for the masala. I wasn’t, and I was disappointed. It made me wonder if Benegal had really directed the movie. It is possible that he left much of the work to a junior director.

If only the movie had been true to itself, if it had been what it had set out to be…a story about village characters told in a simple way. Then it would have had the class, the Benegal class. I am surprised that the critics did not lambast the movie, and I can only think of one reason – Shyam Benegal. Yes, he is a legend and I am a fan, but each movie needs to be evaluated for itself. If an unknown director had made this movie the critics would have torn it apart, although to my mind, if this is the work of an unknown, it can be considered quite alright. It’s always about expectations.

Related Reading: A Wednesday review
Rock On review
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31 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2008 8:38 am

    I get to know about movies only from you Nita. So strange to have such a movie from a legend. uh, btw this time I am first (dream sequence) here :P

  2. September 24, 2008 8:47 am

    Nita, on the contrary, I liked the movie. I do know that the movie was not realistic. Neither was shreyas up to the mark. But I thought this movie has few interesting shades. Like the whole idea of how life is shown from a “letter-writer’s” perspective. I do agree that the movie has many flaws and need a lots of polish, but still I liked it, may be because I saw it amidst a busy work schedule on a boring weekend :) And yes, I felt Amrita Ro was far better than Shreyas!!

  3. September 24, 2008 9:45 am

    its little surprising to see this review, I too had too much of an expectation from this movie, A good director, and I think Shreyas is a very good actor, and comedy his forte.

  4. September 24, 2008 10:01 am

    well they did a lot of advertising for this one……

  5. September 24, 2008 10:07 am

    A bit slow in between. Glitz and glam quotient on the lower side.

    I thought the story line seemed very “chhota gaon” type. That itself added innocence to the tale.

    Maybe, it seemed a bit contrived and probably lacked polish at times. However, it was a welcome change from the regular stuff trotted out every week.

    Not a bad movie, I would say.

  6. September 24, 2008 10:54 am

    Ok forget Welcome to Sajjanpur, listen to me.
    Can I sing a song for you?
    How about something from Raj Kapoor’s movies?
    I love songs in his movies!
    Best are Chori Chori and Aah.
    And also Guide. (Ok, I know its Dev Anand movie)

    Now, did you forget Welcome to S-pur?
    Good!!
    Cool Down!!!
    And I didn’t know you look so …. you know, I cant use that word for you, it starts with ‘s’ :D
    But now your profile pic and header image don’t match :P
    But DON’T CHANGE your profile photo for it (even if its recycled from old ones), its best I have ever seen from you.
    Cheers :)

    Why thank you Suda. :) I notice you didn’t call me mavshi! Well, I ain’t like a typical one if you ever meet me in person. Trousers are my favourite mode of dress. And that photo was taken just a little over a year ago. And I don’t intend to change it although my husband is suggesting I do. ;) – Nita.

  7. September 24, 2008 11:02 am

    So I take it as, i should miss this movie or at least its okay if i don’t see it,hai na!! :)

    Thanks for the review, you saved a lot of my money! :)

    @ suda
    :lol:

  8. September 24, 2008 1:28 pm

    Strange!! Of the all the reviews I read about the movie, yours potray it the worst.

    I also read that Shreyas was too good and Ravi Kishen a waste.. your review suggest otherwise.

    Anyways its matter of personal opinion and I respect yours :D.

    I have not seen the movie and not going to see it either.

    I love reading your reviews because the presentation is superb, but don’t know why I refrain from commenting on Movie reviews.

    “I was disappointed in Welcome to Sajjanpur. I was expecting more from Shyam Benegal”. I guess sometimes we expect too much :)

  9. September 24, 2008 1:47 pm

    Priyank, nice to see you first. :)

    Manoj, glad you agree that Shreyas was not upto the mark and the movie’s story was crap. Although the theme was good. The movie was too long for me to enjoy.

    Rambler, I don’t know whether you have seen the movie. But if you are talking of Shreyas in Iqbal, that is another matter. He was good in Iqbal, but an actor is always tested in a variety of roles isn’t he.

    Vishesh,
    yeah, I am not surprised. The thing was a commercial gimmick. Even the original title (Mahadev ka Sajjanpur) was changed to a Hinglish one.

    Mavin, agree not a bad movie. But to me a dishonest one. Because it wasn’t true to itself. In any case I found it way too long.

    Sakhi, its difficult for me to advise anyone whether to see a movie or not as it’s all very personal. But I personally think its okay if you miss this! :)

    Sharad, thanks for commenting! I get few comments on my movie reviews, but still more nowadays that earlier! About the movie, I think you are making a wise decision not to see it. About Ram Kishen a waste, they might mean that he had a small role, which he did. About Shreyas Talpade, he wasn’t good enough at all. If reviews are going ga-ga I think they are chamcha reviews. Benegal is too great a man to criticize, but I have noticed that in western countries they don’t care. They tear apart movies even made by legends. That is how it should be. A movie needs to be judged on its own merit, not on a director’s past. The same cricket story! :)

  10. September 24, 2008 6:16 pm

    I think such movies have place in my blog. Total crap !

    Any new hollywood ones coming that would be worth watching?

    Xylene, If there is any movie worth watching, you bet I will see it and review it! Watch this space! :) – Nita.

  11. September 24, 2008 8:15 pm

    The plot sounded very interesting and I can’t believe from what you are saying that Shyam Benegal made such a movie. Hmm… did it feel like if it was a lift off from Hollywood or was the story original?

    original, but there was no story/plot as such. Just the life of a letter writer and the people he meets through his work. However, the content was good (and original) but it is a badly made movie, far too long with a lot of unnecessary songs. Can’t believe Benegal made it either! – Nita

  12. September 24, 2008 8:32 pm

    I like Amrita Rao and Rajeshwari both, but the ads on NDTV were not inspiring enough to actually go to the theater and watch the movie anyway…good to know I haven’t missed much.

    I found it difficult to sit through and well, I regret wasting my money. – Nita.

  13. September 24, 2008 9:02 pm

    I was irritated by the trailer itself of this movie, so never had it in on my watch list.

    Nita, you look like a ‘Hitman: Silent Assassin’ in your new avatar, Hitwoman I should say. ;)

    I hope, now, I am not on your list of assignments :)

    There is a saying that looks can kill… ;) Hopefully the trolls should go away! – Nita

  14. lallopallo permalink
    September 24, 2008 10:15 pm

    Good that you saved me from this one; I was getting bit intrigued that how Shyam Benegal might have attempted comedy, but now Iam gonna miss it.

    There is comedy in places Lallo, but the movie is so stretched with irrelevant stuff that its a waste of time. – Nita.

  15. September 25, 2008 12:06 am

    I watched it and found it humorous at many places. But some scenes like the street play on Singur Issue was totally out of context and irrelevant!! It felt the humor was suddenly switched off. Ravi Kishan is a very famous Bhojpuri hero and even AB has acted with him in a Bhojpuri movie. I liked Shreyas though. Overall its a one time watch I think ..on a Sunday afternoon type.

    P.S. Wonderful avatar!! Looking cool..ekdum Bhai mafik.

    Thanks Reema. And thanks for letting me know that Ravi Kishan is a famous Bhojpuri actor. I had no idea. I just loved his performance in the movie. This sort of gives me confidence in my own judgment because I thought he was an extra or something! :) – Nita.

  16. September 25, 2008 12:08 am

    The promos were very promising. I am disappointed. I could never understand why they try to commercialize offbeat cinema. A Wednesday worked. Didn’t it? The filmmakers should learn from such movies. And Shyam Benegal?? What happened to him?

    I think maybe Benegal let the juniors do the work. In this case the screenplay was weak, there was no common thread in the movie, and the actors were inexperienced, it needed a brilliant director. I think if Shreyas Talpade had done a good job, this movie would have been much better. Sometimes a lead actor can make all the difference. And yes about A Wedneday! That was a wonderful movie! – Nita.

  17. September 25, 2008 12:09 am

    I liked your previous avataar. It was very scholarly and intellectual. :)

    True, I liked it too, a lot. Bu wasn’t as cool as yours. :) – Nita.

  18. September 25, 2008 10:17 am

    Aahhh .. I was gonna go to watch this movie tonight just because of Shyam Benegal’s prior work ..

    But after reading ur review, I think I would give it a miss ..

    Thanks for saving some bucks ..

  19. September 25, 2008 10:36 am

    @Amit
    Noooo, because her previous avatar, people(like me) were feeling like calling her (O) mavshi, (aho) kaku…….. in short an old *aunty* :D
    So this hitwoman avatar is great and even if our kaka said that he would rather prefer the old one, I wish Nita won’t change this for long time (or until I catch her and make a portfolio to publish here :D ).

  20. September 25, 2008 11:46 am

    Nita, It is a good idea to read your reviews before wasting money and precious 3 hours on a film. I will wait for the VCD to release.

  21. September 25, 2008 7:47 pm

    I had liked the movie for a one time watch. May be because I had gone with zero expectations.

    And like you I had loved Ila Arun, wish she had more screen time.

    Great review.

  22. September 25, 2008 10:39 pm

    i watched it on … well, not in a theatre. :p … didn’t think it was all that bad. it made for a one time watch. the bihari dialect was yummy.

    loved ila arun.

  23. September 26, 2008 5:41 am

    The street play scene is quite realistic, a lot of awareness (about a variety of issues) in rural India is created through such plays.

    I liked this movie, if for nothing else that for it being a rare (but not entirely realistic) foray into life in rural India.

  24. September 28, 2008 7:47 am

    well,I am disappointed and totally ssurprised by this review. I saw this movie last night . Most of the time I was laughing as the jokes were really original and came out of the hall with a bigger smile,The movie is a breathe of fresh air. The problems in the rural society and the innocence of the people in the village is beautifully potrayed comically by genious Benegal. The man who gave so intense cinema came up with a comical but still imformative and humorous at the same time. Hats off to Mr. Benegal . Don’t miss it if you like cinema.

  25. Swati permalink
    September 29, 2008 3:49 am

    I am surprised to know that this movie could be disliked. As I read somewhere, this movie successfully creates an impression of a “gaon” like R K Narayanan’s malgudi. The simplicity, the dialect was commendable .. oh yeah ..the humor..everything was just cute. . This was a good satire on the political and social scenario of a “small town” in India. I have lived some very good days of my life in a small town.. and I can feel how close Shyam Benegal could get. That politics is a dirty game, that we are still trapped in old superstitions and believes ( regarding widow remarriage), the mentality of an uneducated/even educated Indian wife has been portrayed so properly.
    We just can’t always expect a the same serious kind of movies from a director. I kind of liked the movie..though Shreyas could have been better. Rest everyone were excellent .

  26. Richa permalink
    September 29, 2008 1:46 pm

    Your review is objective Nita, you have given pros and cons. I saw this movie and got bored in many parts. Overall my impression was not that good. This was some sort of hotch potch of an art film and commerial cinema.

  27. November 3, 2008 2:05 am

    I liked the movie, It has many realistic issues. But I felt if the songs could have been better movie would have done lot more bussiness.

  28. stud.boy99 permalink
    December 10, 2008 1:45 am

    I think the movie was very original, it has an earthy touch to it, and the main characters aren’t in black n white, they are mostly grey which give it a realistic look.

    And the comedy was mostly situational. Infact the situation in the village is quite grim for everyone, still the director finds humor in these conditions, which is praiseworthy.

    It touches so many social issues like– widow remarriage, caste system, conditions of eunuchs, girl education, education in general, villages’ customs and practices (girl’s marriage to a dog!!), politics, muslims etc.

    I had an advantage though coz i saw the movie online i didn’t have to sit thru the songs and dances, which i think most of the ppl on this blog are not happy abt.

    And I did not compare it with other shyam benegal movies, rather compared it with the typical-formula bollywood movies.

    I would rate it 4 out of 5

  29. May 25, 2009 8:45 pm

    i like this movie very much bcz this movie is releted to true indian people.

  30. November 25, 2009 7:24 pm

    i am rahul singhal

  31. November 25, 2009 7:28 pm

    Aahhh .. I was gonna go to watch this movie tonight just because of Shyam Benegal’s prior work ..

    But after reading ur review, I think I would give it a miss ..

    Thanks for saving some bucks ..

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