`WelcomeTo Sajjanpur` endears with simplicity, warmth, humour
Welcome to Shyam Benegal`s world of enchanting social
comment. Every character in this village of the damned, the doomed and
remarkably redeemed is a stereotype. And yet, miraculously, every character is
an individual, eccentric, quirky, blemished and yet so full of vitality vigour
and energy that you wonder which came first...life, or life as seen through the
eyes of Benegal`s camera of innocence, candour and credibility.
This isn`t Benegal`s first broadly-designed, warmly-panoramic ensemble film.
Earlier, the prolific director excelled in depicting the life of a specific
community in "Mandi" and "Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda" as a
microcosm of a larger reality.
"Welcome To Sajjanpur" is enormously high on simplicity. To be simple
in cinema is the most difficult thing in the world - especially when you attempt
a film that subsumes an entire ethos of socio-political and cultural ideas on a
rural society in tricky, torrential transition from blind faith to globalisation.
So, here in an exceptionally well-scripted film (Ashok Mishra), there`s Ila Arun
(deftly effective) as a woman determined to marry off her spunky daughter (Divya
Dutta) to a dog to fob off a bad horoscope.
Bad karma nudges delicious satire in "Welome To Sajjanpur" as a
closet-author whiles away his time writing letters for the illiterate, misguided
villagers in a sleepy village that comes alive only at election time when a
spirited eunuch takes on a local gangster at the elections.
The spirit of the missives, some sad, some satirical, others a bewildering
Benegalesque blend of both, comes across in episodic overtures that lead us
gently but persuasively from one issue - of widow remarriage (Ravi Kissan giving
coy glances to Rajeswahri Sachdeva is a paisa-vasool sight) to another issue of
Amrita Rao, in loud parrot-coloured saris and mannerisms suggesting an unspoilt
naivete, is the bride-in-waiting whose husband has been gone to Mumbai for four
Shreyas Talpade is the letter writer given the task of informing Amrita`s
husband that the bride can wait no more. In a spurt of blinding self-interest,
Talpade goes from detached letter-writer to attached Romeo and then to the
penitent martyr with an ease, fluency and sauciness that the actor seems to
muster up with a magician`s flourish.
In a film flush with accomplished performances, Talpade holds the plot together
like a voluminous book`s spine - giving his bucolic character heart, charm and
This is Talpade`s coming-of-age film. You really can`t imagine any other leading
man achieving the same level of connectivity with the character, plot and
All the Benegal regulars - from Ila Arun to Rajit Kapur - show up in Sajjanpur
with gratifying humility and warmth. Ravi Jhankal as the election-contesting
eunuch and Yashpal Sharma as the eunuch`s uncouth opponent stand out, if `stand
out` is the right term for a film where the actors become one with the
characters in a seamless design celebrating life`s most recognisable and basic
The costumes (Pia Benegal) tend to get a little touristy at times. And the
dialogues (Ashok Mishra again) sometimes lean towards the lewd to salute the
boorish rustic ambience. These are not traits you would expect in Benegal`s
film. But then he needs to keep up with the times. A fact that seems to have
bypassed the soporific slumber-dwellers of Sajjanpur as they battle between
hand-written postcards and sms communications, finally allowing the former to
rule the roost until further notification.
This is a film where every character - big or small - stands tall in his or her
naïve insularity from forces of corruptibility that threaten to break down
Sajjanpur echoes a 1977 film "Palkon Ki Chaon Mein" where Rajesh
Khanna played the village postman trying not to get too involved with the local
people`s domestic problems. Talpade doesn`t try that hard.
This is not Benegal`s most subtle work of his prolific career. But it is one of
his warmest, funniest and raunchiest pieces of cinema - where every character is
a human being you`d bump into if you visit a Sajjanpur. Not too many films do
that these days.
Mahadev is one of the few educated young men from Sajjanpur. His ambition is
to be a novelist but finds it easier to make a living by writing letters sitting
next to the post office. His ability to write persuasive letters makes him
popular with the largely non-literate population of the town. Aware of this
power, he soon uses his talent to manipulate people with amusing and sometimes
not such amusing results.
With this as the narrative frame, Welcome to Sajjanpur shows in an
entertaining, musical and comic way, characters and events that are at once
hilarious and poignant. A delightful satirical take on a contemporary Indian