Welcome to Sajjanpur – Movie Review
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.