Sir, a term used to respectfully address a male of usually higher authority is deep-seated in our colonial past. Rohena Gera’s Netflix film, Sir, explores this very colonial streak in a contemporary urban Mumbai setup. Sir is used by Ratna (played by Tillotama Shome), a maidservant, to address her former writer employer Ashwin (played by Vivek Gomber). The context of the word’s usage changes throughout the film from respect to love to a safe word to maintain distance. This variation is testimony to the shifting nature of Ratna and Ashwin’s relationship.
The class divide between the serving and served is a predominant theme in Sir. Gera’s narration spectacularly lays that out by doing away with cliched portrayals and subverts its presence through a demure, wealthy, humble and aware-of-his-class-privileges, Ashwin. He counters and stands up for any rude behaviour from guests towards Ratna. When he can’t, he apologizes to her after they leave. Ratna, an ambitious young widow woman new to city life, also acknowledges his apology rather than accepting the behaviour as a professional hazard.
Vibha Gulati’s script masterfully uses dialogues to intensify the social gap yet leaves room to show the emotional connect between Ratna and Ashwin. Awkward yet intense conversations between Ashwin and Ratna form the base of Sir. Neither of them is good with small talk. This is where we get raw glimpses of abruptly ended conversations where one side doesn’t know how to take it further. It ranges from Ratna not knowing what brave means to Ashwin being told that any hint of infidelity will bring dishonour to Ratna’s family.
Throughout the film, Dominique Colin’s cinematography makes and breaks the class divide. Pan shots of a shared wall of the two characters (similar to Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love) are equivocally used to show their loneliness, apprehensions and loyalty. The film remains devoid of any additional cinematic filter, in a way adding to its narrative finesse. Pierre Aviat’s soulful bellowing horn score tactfully placed at emotional points adds to the narrative and even manages to extract a tear for the emotional ones.
Impossible relationships have often died at the altar of reality. Sir takes that route too but with a twist at the end. You can very well read it as a reverse Pretty Woman setup but in a non-Hollywood conclusive way. Several scenes like Ratna leaving and Ashwin reluctantly helping her carry her suitcase to the door will convince you further.
Sir plays to your heartstrings. Shome’s flawless brilliance and Gomber’s withheld, subdued acting makes you want to know more of how their journey takes off. You yearn for another minute or a sequel to the film long after editors Jacques Comets and Baptiste Ribrault cruelly cut to a black screen. But that again is good filmmaking, an increasingly rare commodity in the barrage of content on OTT platforms.