Welcome to Sajjanpur
Cast: Shreyas Talpade, Amrita Rao
Director: Shyam Benegal
It’s a wonderful word. Whether it’s a political piggy, a demented woman who can only cry through her nose (?), or a clinic ‘compounder’ who flips out for the village widow, they speak a lingo that’s absolutely earthy, downright bingo.
In fact, the spine of Shyam Benegal’s Welcome to Sajjanpur is its rustic, colloquial dialogue. Co-written with Ashok Mishra (who must be saluted for the dialogue dexterity), Benegal’s screenplay pauses to spare a thought for the near extinct art of letter writing. Sure, you may sense some echoes of Brazil’s Central Station and even the French classic Cyrano De Bergerac. The long-nosed Cyrano played Cupid there, here it’s just the opposite. <b1>
The letter writer (Shreyas Talpade) is being deceitful and loving it. He’s a wannabe Premchand in a surrounding that’s as conducive to writing as a pen without a nib. Ergo, he dreams big but lives in a hamlet that doesn’t know its ABCD. And right now, he’s attempting to snatch his childhood sweetheart (Amrita Rao) from her husband who hasn’t been back to the muluk for ages. Aah, the letter writer could do with some romancing. But sorry, there are too many assorted nuts around, including a hilarious snake medicine man who carries a rubber cobra. Why? Just.
Socially concerned as always, Benegal articulates several points. Take widow remarriage which culminates in a tragedy and is so resonant of today’s headlines. In Sajjanpur, also enter and exit, a headstrong scooter-riding girl, the gangster-like politician, and heavens, even a group of eunuchs out to contest the elections and assert that they’re human too.<b2>
Because of the restraint in directing potentially David Dhawanish material, Benegal frequently gets away even with risqué humour. Throughout the comedy, there’s no indulgence in slapstick. Instead, there are wise and witty moments that make you smile or guffaw at human foibles.
Quite clearly though, the song situations and their picturisations are super-tacky (like the blingy white curtains as backdrop for a dream sequence). Oddly, the background score often breaks into an American country-and-western jig. And towards the finale, certain aspects are much too hokey pokey – like a publisher’s smarmy questions about the intricacies of the story that you have just seen. Indeed, there’s something much too contrived about wrapping up the loose ends. Did Benegal run out of stock or inspiration, or both?
But then who’s perfect? Besides spinning a charming yarn, Benegal bankably draws a first-rate ensemble performance. Shreyas Talpade, after Iqbal, gets a role worthy of his calibre. He’s terrific. Amrita Rao is sweetness personified. Cameos from Ravi Kissan, Divya Dutta and Yashpal Sharma are lifelike.
Yup, so Sajjanpur is different, it has a conscience, and merits a ticket from those who have one too.