Sara/s
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Director: Jude Anthany Joseph

Cast: Anna Ben, Sunny Wayne, Siddique, Mallika Sukumaran

Spoilers Ahead…

In Anna Ben’s short-yet-already illustrious career, Sara’s is the second film to be titled after the character she plays. But there’s one tiny difference that separates this from her earlier film Helen, which is pretty much about her character and what happens to her when she’s stuck inside a freezer for a whole night. Sara’s too is about Sara but the apostrophe makes the difference. The film isn’t just an entry into her mind when she’s put in a particularly complicated situation. It is also very much about what follows the apostrophe and the power Sara has over what will be added to it later. 

From a distance, it’s safest to add vague words like ‘life’ or ‘world’ to the name. They both fit just fine and the film’s pretty much about her world and what happens to it. But it’s the specificities that make the film both endearing and interesting. Her ‘world’ has other plans for her. Her family, friends and even her luck conspires to ensure that words like ‘baby’, ‘marriage’ or even ‘family’ becomes her personality-defining possession. For Sara, though, these are not even close to the life-goals others make them out to be. 

She is unapologetic and sure about what she wants. If a film with the exact same situation had released twenty years ago, the film itself would have deemed her selfish and inconsiderate (like Pooja Batra’s character in Priyadarshan’s Megham). But over here, there are no judgments being made, neither is there an excessive emphasis on the ‘sin’ Sara wants to commit. It’s all matter of fact and the arguments the film puts worth through Sara draws us in to a complicated debate that rarely gets space in our movies. 

That’s mainly because the film is about two pregnancies. By this, I don’t mean one pregnancy followed by the other. Nor do I mean that Sara is pregnant with twins. The film’s central conflict deals with a time frame when Sara is both pregnant biologically, as well as ‘creatively’. As an associate director, she gets pregnant exactly when she gets to make her first film. In other words, it’s a time when she has to choose between her birth-child OR her brainchild. 

The parallels between filmmaking and childbirth have never been so much fun to witness. A Malayalam film takes pretty much the same time to make as a baby. Even words like theatre (operation and movie) become interchangeable over here and you get a brilliant subversion of a father waiting in the corridor. Even the phrase ‘labour of love’, takes a different meaning in this context. 

Yet this debate between career and family isn’t as on-your-face as the debate at the centre of last week’s Cold Case (science versus paranormal). Sara’s character is committed to what she wants yet we always see her as real person and not as the representative of an ideology. It’s the same with her husband Jeevan, played wonderfully by Sunny Wayne. He isn’t a Shammi, nor is he a saint. He gets what Sara is going through even though he struggles to understand what’s happening to him during the same point in time. Even Sara’s confusion better makes sense because you see that Jeevan too is only trying to be reasonable, rather than a sledgehammer of patriarchy.

Of course, all this appears a tad simplistic in parts, especially when solutions appear in the form of speeches along with the overall chirpy tone of the film. But the film uses the couple along with fascinating characters around them to show us different variations of their future. We get Jeevan’s sister (Dhanya Varma), a single mother trying to juggle work and her two impossible children. We also meet his mother (another excellent performance by Malika Sukumaran), a woman who perhaps sacrificed everything for her children and has nothing to show for it. But what works best is how the film also adds a character named Anjali—a ‘has-been’ star who had to quit at her peak for marriage. 

Through these women, we witness Sara herself at different stages in the future if she were to listen to society and do what is expected of her. We see the hypocrisies of a ‘happy family’ and we also get a fun Kumbalangi Nights reference that calls out the seemingly progressive Malayali man. 

All this, even when you notice the film struggle in parts to maintain the plot’s seriousness along with its candy-floss texture. Even Shaan Rahman’s usually precise music, works overtime to underline Sara’s conflict. There’s too much happening, a kind of unnecessary ‘epicness’ as though Sara is stuck in a showroom full of wind chimes. The visuals are bright and clean and it maintains ‘happy’ as though it’s a lighting pattern. There’s always a big laugh around the corner and the director manages to bring a lot of the lost energy the film loses somewhere in the middle. 

But what holds it all together is the amount of likeability Anna Ben is able to generate for Sara. She is immensely funny in the film’s first hour, just as she is able to make us her cheerleaders when the character enters darker zones. With her most complex character yet, she appears strong without making it look like a statement, just like how she doesn’t have to do much to come across as vulnerable.

With funny add-ons like that of a teacher skipping through an important lesson in biology and an ‘egg’ motif, the film is both quirky and weird. It gets a lot of it right and a few things wrong but there’s no denying what one feels for a character like Sara. In scenes where she’s casually bumping a cigarette or chilling with a drink, there’s no “look-at-me” announcements the film’s trying to make. She loves sex too and so what if she doesn’t want to have children. More than anything, she’s a rare female protagonist who doesn’t have to feel straightjackted under the pressures of sacrifice and motherhood and it’s even better than the film didn’t expect her to juggle both her career as well as what the family wants. She is just a person with dreams like you or me, who thankfully, doesn’t need to feel guilty for wanting what she wants. By the end, you can’t help but become Sara’s…fans. Maybe that’s what the apostrophe is for.   

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