Director: Gaurav Mehra
Cast: Saurabh Goyal, Preety Sharma
There is much to be learned from the way director Gaurav Mehra handles what is effectively a short-form “social message” drama. The message itself is lent heft because the director primarily concentrates on the chemistry that motivates the characters to make a difference. So many films overlook the solidity of an emotional foundation in a hurry to communicate their noble intentions; the falling-in- love portions are so mundane and lazy that we are rarely ever convinced of the feelings driving the protagonist’s against-all-odds journey.
For example, mainstream Akshay Kumar starrers like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Pad Man, in a frantic dash to educate us about the country’s shortcomings, remain callous about its basic relationship-building portions. In fact, Pad Man simply begins with a wedding song that is supposed to suggest the man’s automatic affections. Music is used to depict what personalities should.
But in SEAL, Mehra allows a single, endearingly awkward scene – that of a young, bashful couple learning about one another on their wedding night – to unravel in its own time so that there is no doubt about what might inspire the man to defeat a lifetime of patriarchal cultural conditioning. Unlike a gifted Bollywood hero, he isn’t already equipped with the mental powers of progressiveness; he isn’t even a path breaker, or one to unleash righteous speeches upon his elders about their outdated ways. In fact, nothing in the film suggests that he has the guts to stand up to his parents and defy oppressive traditions.
The message itself is lent heft because the director primarily concentrates on the chemistry that motivates the characters to make a difference
Yet, there is a quiet, flawed Rajkummar-Rao-style everyman-ness about him that makes it seem as if this sweet conversation with a partner he barely knows is transforming him from a stifled son – a product of his toxic environment – into a caring husband. It may just be small talk, but it’s their mutual respect that does the real talking. You can sense that he is still impressionable, and must perhaps be influenced by the recent spate of Hindi cinema’s liberal, middle-Indian love stories. That he doesn’t judge his bride for her disarming honesty says a lot about the couple’s future beyond the confines of a short film.
Mehra goes a little overboard in depicting the “villains” the man is up against – the mother’s face, in particular, is hostile in a cartoonish manner – but there is enough between the couple to suggest that, irrespective of the bleak ending, SEAL is inherently a hopeful film. Despite the uncomfortable honour-killing- level expressions of the atmosphere, there is a cautious innocence about the two that suggests they will secretly write the script of their own story.
He won’t change the world, but he might just protect her world. That’s where the oft-abused Women’s Day sentiment finds some kind of cinematic validation.