Brevity is a quality of a film that comes with several rewrites or from an exceptionally gifted writer. It takes a certain amount of confidence in one’s story to have only two or three dialogues in a scene without taking anything away from the story. To be able to add to a story by being brief is a skill that few can boast to have mastered. Anyone who has taken a beginner’s workshop in screenwriting would have come across this adage – start late, leave early. Is Love Enough? Sir does something similar but it doesn’t employ this rule just because it works. Rohena Gera uses this tool because in certain scenes that is all there is to say. Anything more would be superfluous.
In a way, it can be said that the title of the film gives away the theme. Yet despite the fact that we might have some idea of what the story might be, nothing about the journey these characters take is conventional or predictable. Ratna (Tillotama Shome), in particular, crosses several milestones in the film and one of the most evident ones is marked by the words ‘thank you’. It’s something Ashwin, Vivek Gomber’s character in the film, says a lot to Ratna – when she puts down a tray of food for him, when she closes the door on her way out, etc. She understands what he means but never replies and Tillotama Shome’s performance (although ‘performance’ really feels like the wrong word for it given how natural it looks) makes these silences after Gomber’s thankyous very evident. Her saying nothing in response to being thanked is noted every time. So when she does say it for the first time, she says it in a manner that is utterly heartfelt.
Unlike Ashwin, she doesn’t waste her thankyous in every conversation. She picks her words carefully, a characteristic trait of hers, and she expresses gratitude only because she means it genuinely. And the scene where Ratna says ‘thank you’ for the first time ends with just that – with her saying ‘thank you’ because nothing else needs to be said. How much more superfluous it might have been if time had been spent here pressing for an emotion that has already been conveyed so succinctly in just two words.
Similarly, another milestone for Ratna is in a scene that is even more understated and which has very little to do with dialogue and everything to do with context. The set-up is that Ratna is just about to enter the flat and as she opens the door she sees Ashwin. Unlike every other time when it’s her greeting him ‘namaste sir’ when he comes home, at this moment she sees him standing in the doorway. He’s clearly wearing formal clothes and was probably just about to leave the flat when Ratna walks in but that completely escapes her and she goes off on her own a little, excitedly recounting the day she has had. She’s completely just happy for two seconds and Ashwin is glad to hear what she has to say but finally he has to ask, “Main jaoon?”/ “Can I go?” Finally, it registers with her, and she steps aside from the door. Ashwin leaves but the camera remains on her for a while as she stands in that passageway doing nothing in particular – maybe letting what happened settle down in her mind. I don’t know how you could show someone’s guard falling and them becoming conscious of it better than this.
A defining moment for Ashwin’s character, in fact, takes place with him off-screen. At a certain point Ratna gets a call from him and she understands that this call is a step across the line that distances an employer from an employee. She wonders if he might be beating about the bush; waiting to get around to talk about serious matters. So she takes a pause and asks, “Kuchh kaam tha?”/ “Was there some work?”. He replies, “Nahin”. Realistically, they might have kept talking but the scene doesn’t get into that. It ends here because the point of scene was not to establish what they talk about; it was just to establish that he called.
Sir is one of those films that one cannot fully appreciate in a single viewing and that is entirely the credit of the filmmakers who have layered it so intricately that nothing ever jumps out evidently unless you pause and rewind and look again and again. There is one last scene I will talk about as a way to encourage not just watching the film but re-watching it.
This scene comes in at around the twentieth minute. Ratna puts the food on the table and sees Ashwin standing at the balcony. The next scene is a pan from Ashwin on the sofa to Ratna in the kitchen and only the music and a smile on Ratna’s face conveys what she might be thinking even though it is largely unclear. In the next scene she tells Ashwin her story and leaves him with a lesson she has learnt, that “Life doesn’t end, sir.” When I watched this sequence for the first time, I did not understand why I liked it. On a re-watch, that second scene – that of Ratna in the kitchen – gathers so much more meaning. This is the first time she creates a connection with him. More than tending to his needs and demands as a maid, this is the first time she reaches out to him as another person, finds a common ground to prove they are not so dissimilar. So, in the scene in the kitchen, she’s probably smiling because she has found an opportunity to break the ice with Ashwin and that makes her happy. She might have even rehearsed how she would relay the advice but we don’t see that and not seeing it is perhaps what makes the second watch all the more satisfying.
Jordan Peele had unlocked a crucial factor about films that warrant a second watch. The gist of it is this – a movie that is worth that second viewing is a movie where the clues were there from the beginning but you missed them. That’s the most satisfying thing for the audience to know: that they weren’t treated as dumb (because they’re not) and they almost got it (although they didn’t). And you can see the proof that the filmmaker was laying out the breadcrumbs all along. For anyone who watches Sir, the first viewing of the film might blow you away but the second viewing is certain to move you to your core.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.