Welcome to Sajjanpur

With old man winter making a sudden and very rude appearance at my door, all of a sudden I have oodles of time to devote to catching up on some movies I've been waiting to see. Yesterday I finally managed to watch Shyam Benegal's Welcome To Sajjanpur. I didn't know anything about this movie when I recorded it except I liked the music and it starred Shreyas Talpade, who I had seen and enjoyed in Om Shanti Om.

This is not your typical cookie cutter family drama, masala piece or love story that generally makes up the majority of the Bollywood industry, and it certainly isn't like any movie I've seen so far. Oh sure, it does have a little bit of love story, but there is so much to this movie that is far beyond what I've been exposed to in Hindi cinema so far that I almost felt like I had to do oodles of research just to really understand what I'd seen.

The main vein of the film follows Mahadev (Shreyas), the only educated person in Sajjanpur. Mahadev, an aspiring writer, quickly realizes he can use his literary skills to make money reading and writing letters for the villagers, thus creating all sorts of opportunity for him to become entangled in their lives for good and for bad. Though Mahadev is used as the common link in the movie, Welcome to Sajjanpur is totally character driven, with each of the supporting characters given their own little piece of the pie. We see Yashpal Sharma as the scheming politician, the superstitious mother (Ila Arun) who's desperate to get her daughter married despite her bad stars, a eunuch (Ravi Jhankal) venturing into politics, and a Compounder (Ravi Kishan) crazy in love with a widow (Rajeshwari Sachdeva). Mahadev's personal story is that he falls for a childhood friend, the ever alluring Amrita Rao, whose husband is in Mumbai trying to earn money to bring her there.

Turn away now to miss the spoilers:
While each of the performances had their pluses, it really was the subject matter that held my attention the most. What is a eunich? Do people really marry their daughters off to dogs? Is it so hard to earn a living that one needs to sell their own body parts just to make ends meet? It seems as though Benegal has tried to fit as many social issues as he could into this varital sociological buffet, even approaching widow remarriage, which needlessly culminates into tragedy with an unexpected and unexplained honor killing.
Done with the spoilers.

For the most part, Welcome to Sajjanpur is a fun movie. The fast paced songs are catchy, the acting is done in fine form (with Shreyas being my favorite of the bunch), and the movie looks good. My only real disappointment with this film was the abrupt ending. We get a very convenient wrap up of everyone's stories, mostly with happy endings. Even Mahadev gets his happy ending even if it comes out of nowhere and then before you know it the credits are rolling.

6 Response to "Welcome to Sajjanpur"

  1. TadyLovesDaniel says:
    December 8, 2009 at 10:32 PM

    I totally agree...this movie was my little gem of the year...I really enjoyed the story...mainly because it is character driven...I loved all the characters..I really hated the ending...Where the heck does this love come from...what on earth would motivate him to write 40 letters convincing her that his love is real...when we, as the audience don't believe it...

  2. shell says:
    December 9, 2009 at 7:50 AM

    Absolutely. I never discussed so much his marriage at the end, but it was so out of nowhere. Don't want to marry a dog? Why not marry me instead and I'll prove how much I love you even though I don't know you. Very unbelievable. And the hangings were so totally unnecessary.

  3. bollyviewer says:
    December 9, 2009 at 2:58 PM

    I adore this film. It may be filmi rural India with rather glorified small-town feel to it, but its so heartwarming and human! Shreyas was, of course, the best part of the film. But I also loved Amrita's story and Shreyas's part in it. I guess Benegal spent so long developing the Shreyas-Amrita track that there was no time left for the actual romance!

    This film would be great if expanded into one of those old-fashioned TV series that Indian TV used to have back in the 80s - each episode featuring the story of one or more inhabitants with a common thread of a "hero/heroine" running through it. (SRK was part of one such lovely series called Circus that focused on the stories of the members of a circus group.)

  4. shell says:
    December 10, 2009 at 7:36 AM

    I could totally see this being expanded in a serial in the format you suggested. It certainly would give each of the characters ample time to develop their stories. I've never seen Circus, but I'd heard of it.

  5. Filmbuff Says:
    December 10, 2009 at 6:19 PM

    I haven't seen this movie yet, i shall post comments after I see it!

  6. shell says:
    December 11, 2009 at 6:36 AM

    Filmbuff, I often feel like I have nothing to say on other people's blogs when it's a movie I haven't seen. There are only so many times you can write: "sounds like a good one. I'll add it to my list" before you start sounding completely redundant! If you get around to it please do come back and let me know what your impressions were.