Warning: Spoilers ahead
The real remedy of caste is inter-marriage, Ambedkar once said. In Sairat, Nagraj Manjule showed what the cost of this marriage can be.
When Sairat’s Archi and Parshya decided to be together despite the many meaningless divisions laid between them, it was an act of rebellion. Love is the most natural, normal thing in the world. But in a society that puts so many barriers between two people, it is this normal feeling that becomes ‘wild’ or sairat. It threatens to destroy the social structure built on inequality and exclusion. Two years later, Dhadak, a Bollywood adaptation of it by Shashank Khaitan, has been released.
Let me just start by saying that Dhadak is not a bad film. It is fairly well-made, with a few good performances, occasional humorous moments, and good music. If it wasn’t meant to be an adaptation of Sairat, it may have passed off as a stereotypical rich-girl poor-boy love story, made to launch two star kids, Janhvi Kapoor and Ishaan Khatter. But Sairat wasn’t just a love story. The makers of Dhadak have failed to realise what made Sairat so special, and why even non-Marathi speaking audiences connected with it.
When he speaks to her for the first time, she condescendingly marvels that he knows English. She is aware of her superiority over him.
There are many things that make you miss Sairat while whatching Dhadak. Parshya dreams of a confident and sensual Archi in a shimmery dress, sneaking off to meet him. He is attracted to her, but has inhibitions in expressing himself. When she is attracted to him, she is much more proactive. She uses her self-assuredness and confidence to draw him out of his shell, and turns their relationship into a reality. She steals money from her home and makes a solid concrete plan to escape from a place which she knows won’t let them be together. Archi never looks down on Parshya or thinks she is better than him.
But Madhu from Dhadak dreams of Parthvi in a ghoonghat (veil), seemingly in some soft porn fantasy. When he speaks to her for the first time, she condescendingly marvels that he knows English. She is aware of her superiority over him, although she does support him against a heckler when he is singing for her.
Madhu is quite different from Parshya. He shares a good relationship with his parents, who are financially stable and run a restaurant. Parshya was the son of a lower caste fisherman. The question of jaat (caste) only comes in question when Madhu’s father suspects his son of having feelings for an upper caste politician’s daughter, whereas for Parshya and his family, it’s not something that needs to be mentioned or specifically stated, because they live with it. Parshya’s friends are Salim and ‘Langdya’, who is disabled. Madhu too has the same friend composition, but the disability is changed from polio to dwarfism, and is used to make infantile mocking jokes throughout the film.
After running away, the two have only each other for support. Dhadak shows them running away to Madhu’s uncle’s house. Then they move to Kolkata after being put in touch with someone, and are both supported by a compassionate landlord and his wife. This is a solid social support system, as compared to Archi and Parshya, who are completely vulnerable. It is only due to the kindness of a random stranger that they are able to set up a new life.
There are some powerful, defining scenes in Sairat which elaborate on how embedded caste is in the social fabric. One is where Prince, Archi’s brother, slaps a college professor. The second is where Archi goes to Parshya’s lower caste household and asks for a glass of water to his bewildered mother. The third is when Archi’s father tries to get Parshya imprisoned in a false rape case to protect his ‘honour’. All these are terribly handled in Dhadak. Parthvi’s brother Roop is instead made to apologize to the professor, because of the upcoming elections. Parthvi goes to Madhu’s family restaurant and speaks to his mother, which is not at all controversial. Even though Parthvi does use a gun to threaten the police and her family into leaving them alone, it comes nowhere close to the powerful scene where Archi refuses to budge at the police station unless they let Parshya go.
It is highly unlikely that they would let this independent thinking woman (who according to them is their personal property) stay alive.
The one aspect that is handled reasonably well in Dhadak is how the two react differently to adversity, when they are forced to run away from the only lives they have known. The poor boy in both cases is pragmatic, and has to bear the additional burden of dealing with the rich girl’s inability to cope with hard domestic chores, even though they are both suffering from separation from their families and homes. Archi tries to run back home when Parshya is suspicious and abusive towards her. Considering her background, it is only natural that she tries to return to a home where she once felt safe. This very realistic portrayal of doubting your decision to leave everything for one person is completely missing from Dhadak.
One of the biggest flaws in the Bollywood remake by far, is where it fails to understand the intersection of gender in the climax. In Sairat, Archi’s brother and his gang come to kill her and her husband. They are not concerned with the child, who in a chilling climax, walks off with feet stained with the blood of his murdered parents. But in Dhadak, it is Madhu and their son who are killed off, as Parthvi watches them fall from the building.
The upper caste woman is powerful only through the power accorded by her family. But when she dares to cross the limits set for her, the entire family’s ‘honour’ and ‘superiority’ suffer. Killing her not only avenges this honour, but also creates an example for what happens to women who dare to disrupt the existing power structures. It is highly unlikely that they would let this independent thinking woman (who according to them is their personal property) stay alive.
Sairat has many ‘ifs’ which leave you wondering. What if Archi hadn’t fought to drop rape charges against Parshya? What if the kind woman hadn’t taken them in and supported them? What if Parshya had let jealousy overtake him and been abusive towards Archi? What if she had run away and left him all alone? Most importantly, what if she just hadn’t bothered getting back in touch with her family and instead been alive?
Dhadak doesn’t give you space for any ‘ifs’. It focuses too hard on the love story. While love is indeed the hero of the story, it is this kind of love, on the backdrop of such a society, which thrives in spite of this society. That is what made Sairat special. That is exactly what the makers of Dhadak have failed to understand. That families can be loving and lethal. Relationships can be mundane and epic. And that caste cannot be escaped from. As a standalone film, Dhadak is quite good. But Sairat teaches us that context is important. And in this context, Dhadak is a poor ode to Manjule’s masterpiece.
Featured Image Source: Deecan Chronical