Can love develop between an employer and his live-in domestic worker? It’s entirely possible in a fairy tale, where inconvenient truths are kept at a distance and questions about propriety, workplace safety and unequal power dynamics are ignored. Rohena Gera’s Is Love Enough, Sir? has an observational style and a realistic approach to scene setting and performance, but the movie is unmistakably a fantasy about love bridging the chasm between wealth and poverty.
Made in 2018 under the title Sir and finally being released in Indian cinemas, the Indo-French co-production pivots on a winning performance by Tillotama Shome. She plays Ratna, a widowed maid who works hard to support her family back in the village. Hired to keep a huge, plush apartment in Mumbai in tip-top condition, Ratna never disappoints, all along nursing a dream of becoming a fashion designer.
The apartment is missing an occupant. Ashwin (Vivek Gomber) was to have lived there with his wife, but the wedding has been called off. As Ashwin lurks about his house, desultorily helps his builder father, and attempts to rekindle his social life, the always happy-to-help Ratna catches his eye.
No alarm bells ring at the prospect of Ratna sharing a living space with her single male employer. Their exchanges are marked by unwavering politeness from his side and extreme efficiency from hers. Somewhere between ensuring that Ashwin is always taken care of and pursing her own ambitions, the wage earner fall in love with her income provider.
Is Ashwin slumming it out? The question looms over the 99-minute movie, which works well until the point when Ashwin and Ratna let go of their feelings. Before this moment, the tentative dance between two people on opposite sides of a social, economic and linguistic chasm is still somewhere within the realm of authenticity.
The plot’s setting in Mumbai, often mythicised as the city of overnight transformations and infinite possibilities, is supposed to bolster the idea that the Marathi-speaking Ratna and the English-speaking Ashwin can and will find a meeting ground. (The language that helps them communicate is Hindi.) Ratna is portrayed as intelligent and talented, someone who needs the right opportunities to transcend her circumstances. Ashwin too is presented as an American-returned aspiring writer who has the sensitivity to class differences that his family lacks.
The idea of the romance itself isn’t the problem here. Gera’s screenplay doesn’t work hard enough to make the relationship convincing. For decades, movies have peddled the idea that the force of love can sweep away all kinds of differences. Despite its realist trappings, absence of melodrama and sensitivity to detailing, Is Love Enough, Sir? too wants to belong to this la-la land, where passion blooms between the woman appointed to cook and clean and the man who is paying her to do so.
The stilted writing and uneven staging become more pronounced in the conversations between Ratna and Ashwin and the manner in which most of his family and friends react. The evenly paced narrative is too lean to accommodate some of the harsher, and more uncomfortable, consequences of a match made on earth and realised in movie heaven.
Gera scores with her actors, each of whom turns out committed portrayals. Tillotama Shome’s excellent performance goes a long way in explaining Ratna’s decision to throw tilt her pragmatic head up at the stars. As Ashwin, Vivek Gomber is sincerity personified. Geetanjali Kulkarni has an attention-grabbing cameo as Lakshmi, another live-in maid who helps Ratna with her tailoring project. The warm and maternal Lakshmi has only a few scenes, and the brilliant Kulkarni ensures that every one of them counts.
Tillotama Shome on playing a maid with dreams in ‘Sir’: ‘She is like an arrow going through the day’