Saajan Bakery, directed by Arun Chandu, takes a lot of effort to appear hyperlocal. It begins with an elaborate opening montage that show us the daily lives of its three central characters Bobin (Aju Varghese), Betsy (an excellent Lena) and the town of Ranni. But like Ranni, siblings Bobin and Betsy aren’t as distinctive as, say, places like Angamaly or Kumbalangi or people like Pepe or Shammi. Instead of local delicacies specific to the region, we get food shots of the puffs, fruit rolls and shakes you see in every bakery in every town in Kerala. This applies to Bobin and Betsy too, two siblings trying to run a family business together with their share of issues…like you’d see in every town in every part of Kerala. An acceptance of the ordinary is something the film celebrates, and this lack of ambition is also what makes most of this film endearing.
This includes a cute meta moment at the start when Ganesh Kumar himself tells us that KG Geoge’s Irakal was shot in Ranni. We also get running gags of how men from the region are constantly looking to migrate, the funny names people here are given, and how its citizens are particularly scared of injections. There’s a lightness in the way the film deals with almost everything, including its conflicts, and we feel like passengers in a bus that’s filled with warm and friendly people we want to know more of.
But the issue with Saajan Bakery is that we never really know where this bus is headed. In all of this feel-good flavour, we never sense what it is actually about. Of course Bobin and Betsy have their fair share of issues, especially because they both live and work together (their other partner is their uncle) but it’s only until much later that we learn that this where we’re headed. In all its charm and warmth, we fail to notice that there’s real drama lurking beneath the silly quarrels between the brother and sister.
One of the major conflicts here is how Betsy is separated from her husband Michael. Neither does she agree for a divorce nor do we see her make an effort to fix things. But we learn this detail only through Bobin and what he stands to lose through her indecisiveness. For more than half of the film, Bobin’s overall goofiness never lets you feel that this is a serious issue. Like how their uncle too is separated, we get the sense that Betsy too is better off at this in-between state.
And that’s the case with the other elephant in the room—their business. In all its flavourful shots of the bakery and the people working there, it’s almost impossible to understand that there’s something wrong with the way the business is being run. The shops seems bustling with customers and workers, and the family appears prosperous and working, so it feels like an afterthought when a certain product of theirs suddenly takes more meaning than what was earlier associated with it.
It’s an issue I faced with the same team’s Love, Action, Drama. In the Nivin Pauly-starrer, we only learn that it’s lead Dineshan struggles with an inferiority complex because it’s spelt out in those specific words, and also because he is named Dineshan after Sreenivasan’s character in Vadakkunokkiyantram. Similarly, in Saajan Bakery, the crack in their relationship is something that shows up suddenly because it’s time for the screenplay’s third act to kick in. It’s like the film was so obsessed with characterisations and flavour that it forgot to use all that to tell a story.
This even includes the gimmicky direct-to-camera pieces Bobin’s love interest Merin breaks into every once in a while, even though it leads to no new information for us. Although this relationship comes with its own sets of moments, one feels an excessive use of screentime to convey one bit of detail…that Bobin is selfish, which we’ve already understood.
Between these indulgences, we only get a shadow of the real beats the film was designed around. There’s still a lot of lighthearted fun to be had in this rare brother-sister comedy. There’s also a lot to like about a film that asks the brother to back-off, chill and lets the sister just be. But for a film that preaches the importance of communication, it needed to convey this with a lot more clarity.