Tag Archives: Vivek Gomber

Sahib’s in Love With The Maid in ‘Sir’

It’s an old Bollywood plot – rich village landlord’s son falls for poor village girl who is clearly out of his social class and caste, and they battle the world for their love. SIR, the 2018 movie directed by Rohena Gera, is an adventurous attempt to spin this familiar trope into an urban 21st century setting.

What if the rich boy was a bachelor in a slick Mumbai flat and the poor girl was actually the maid who housekeeps for him? Can there be an actual romance that bridges the cultural chasm between them?

Until a few years ago, Bollywood kept ‘the help’ at arm’s length, using only the ridiculously cliched loyal- onto- death type of character, who alternated between providing comic relief or fading into the background.

Recently, however, the stream of innovative filmmaking pouring out of Netflix and other platforms has begun to take an interest in depicting the social dynamics between domestic help and their employers, with a realism most city folk can relate to.

SIR is unique in that it’s about the genuine feelings that develop between a master, Ashwin (played by Vivek Gomber), and his maid, Ratna (played by Tillotama Shome). It’s well done and quite absorbing, despite a hiccup or two. The suspense of wondering how far Ashwin and Ratna would go to challenge social norms hooks the viewer almost as much as great performances by the two leads and the supporting cast. After all, most urbanites can identify with the presence of ‘the help’ in the background of their lives – maids, drivers, cooks, guards etc., are ubiquitous in Indian urban settings, especially elite ones; we’ve all heard the jokes about the lady of the house who doesn’t care a whit where her husband goes, but is devastated when her cook returns to his village.

Tillotamma Shome as the maid Ratna

In many ways, SIR represents the new, economically and technologically expanding India, where there is an increasing awareness of class boundaries, even while there is a softening of them.

In 2021, even the poorest vendor on the street has a cell phone. A girl like Ratna, with little English and no money, but with a handy iPhone, can leave her village for Mumbai, where she repeats what her new friend (Geetanjali Kulkarni) tells her, This is Mumbai! You can be whoever you want to be!”

SIR begins with the ‘master’ Ashwin, returning home, furious and dejected, from his canceled wedding. We find out later that his fiancée cheated on him, and everything exploded just before the nuptials. Ratna is hovering around, servile and handy with glasses of nimboo paani.

We see him sinking into a quasi-depression, alone in his chic Mumbai flat, while his mama comes around to console him, and drops subtle hints to get him to forgive his fiancée’s infidelity. More than anything else, I was impressed with this progressive take on a woman’s cheating on her prospective spouse by the mother-in-law to be, no less.

Tillotamma Shome in SIR

Rohena Gera does a good job of weaving Ratna’s story into the mix – she’s a young widow who has been allowed to work in the city on the condition that she send 4000.00 rupees each month to her in-laws. Ratna is portrayed with an excess of dignity and virtue, and a fierce desire to forge her own economic independence.

Ashwin’s character is somewhat awkward – a privileged, goody two-shoes nice guy, the kind girls cheat on. And since he’s spending most of his time brooding at home, he begins to appreciate Ratna’s glasses of nimboo paani, home-cooked meals and, eventually, home-spun advice to soothe his aching soul.  

Gera handles the trajectory of emotional intimacy developing between Ashwin and Ratna with sensitivity and attention to detail. A series of realistic scenes depicts their tension-filled undercurrents, keeping the viewer hooked for an inevitable confession of love. Several small vignettes, like brushstrokes of  authenticity, depict Ratna’s life at the bottom of the social ladder and Ashwin’s at the top – Ratna counting her slim roll of money in her tiny room to pay for a tailoring class; Ashwin at a chic Mumbai bar with a friend who points him to “the girl across .. totally checking you out”;   Ratna’s foray into a designer boutique where a guard promptly ushers her out, a stark reminder that class boundaries still exist.

Yes, SIR is watchable, right up to its final surprising twist. The script, direction and acting can almost  make the viewer believe this relationship could happen easily. Can two people from such different universes – a barely literate maid, and an upper middle-class professional, the product of elite private schools, share a genuine, respectful love?

We almost believe the relationship until their first physical interaction – the first misstep which snaps the viewer out of this well-crafted romantic haze. In a ‘sex scene’ that happens too fast Ashwin fumbles, while Ratna’s physical response seems too sophisticated. An urbane Mumbaite making it with his maid in the real world is a hard sell. If Ashwin was less westernized or depicted as less entrenched in Mumbai’s party scene, disbelief could have been suspended more easily.

That being said, for a movie like SIR to have been made at all and receive good reviews (it won the Critics Week award at Cannes), is an indication of the cultural tremors that are transforming Indian social hierarchies. Definitely three stars!


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

A Charming Fantasy About The Good Old Days

There is something about the first few decades of India’s incarnation as an independent nation which holds a romantic fascination for our collective desi imagination.  One thinks of a world of black and white movies, of carved wooden swings creaking gracefully in colonial style verandahs, and of blue skies unadulterated by a haze of pollutants. Those early post-independence decades evoke memories of koyels singing after glorious monsoons, and images of young innocent girls in elegant embroidered saris with lips unblemished by lipstick, with long thick braids sporting dainty parandhas. Their colleges, if they were allowed higher education, were waiting rooms for their supreme goal of marriage.

A Suitable Boy is a charming ode to those Indian fantasies about the ‘good old days.’ Written by Andrew Davies and directed by Mira Nair, the six-part series, on Netflix later this year, is based on Vikram Seth’s 1993 book of the same name. It reproduces a suitably aesthetic, decorated version of that newly independent era in the 1950’s, when a young nation’s hope was alive and throbbing. However, being a Mira Nair production, it also takes a few sly swipes at the pretensions and the peculiarities of the times.

The series follows the intertwined fate of four upper crust Indian families– the Mehras, the Kapoors, the Khans and the Chatterjees. These are the Indian elite, the IAS officers, the zamindars, the movers and shakers of Indian politics.

The story follows the enchanting ingenue Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala), a 19-year old university student forced to choose a suitable husband from three potential suitors.

It starts of course, with a wedding! No Indian series, particularly one produced by the BBC, is considered authentically Indian these days without a Big Fat Indian Wedding popping up somewhere.

The bride is Kavita (Rasika Dugal), Lata’s older sister, who is being married off to the staid, bespectacled professor son of Mahesh Kapoor (Ram Kapoor), the Revenue Minister of Brahmpur, a fictional city near Lucknow.

I don’t see any big thrills on the wedding night, do you?” quips Meenakshi (Shahana Goswami) Lata’s sister-in-law, and we know we are in a Mira Nair film, with tart asides and irreverent moments that liven the humdrum, bourgeois setting.

Gentle satire is Nair’s forte – Lata’s older brother Arun (Vivek Gomber) waves a hand at the wedding assembly and declares in a snobbish British accent, “Look around you! A sea of brown,” upon which his younger brother Varun (Vivaan Shah), retorts, “Just like us!”

Lata’s mother Rupa (Mahira Kakkar) is dead set on finding a suitable boy for Lata, before her daughter turns 21 – the median age for spinsterhood according to Rupa.

You have to marry a boy I choose for you, just like I chose for your sister,” she harangues Lata.

Lata on the other hand, is one step ahead of mum and bolder than her era permits. She falls in love with Kabir (Danesh Razvi), who thrills her but wrecks her peace of mind, and who turns out to be Muslim – strong indications of a ‘big romance’.

While Lata wrestles with social taboos, Rupa suggests another sensible option – Haresh Khanna (Namit Das), a footwear businessman who represents the rising class of aspirational Indians building on opportunities in their newly minted country.  And since good (or bad) news comes in threes, Meenakshi presents her brother Amit (Mikhail Sen), as another option.

There is no better way to aim a wide-angle lens at a culture’s norms and idiosyncrasies than the process of getting a daughter married.  Lata has to choose between running away with Kabir, her forbidden Muslim boyfriend, or marrying Amit (an affected, narcissistic, English poet, who embodies the Anglophilic legacy of the Raj), or settling for her mother’s  favorite – the ambitious, pragmatic, paan-chewing entrepreneur Haresh Khanna, whom Arun contemptuously calls ‘that shoemaker.’

Weaving in and out of Lata’s story is a parallel thread involving the Revenue Minister’s black sheep son, Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khattar), who indulges in wayward behavior such as pushing  the Home Minister into a fountain under the pretext of playing Holi, and falling in obsessive love with local ghazal queen and courtesan, Saeeda Bai (Tabu). Mahesh Kapoor is just as bent on making a man out of this family embarrassment as Maan is on resisting respectability.

Added to the mix are the Khans, a landed Nawabi family of Brahmpur whose  friendship with the Kapoors predates the partition. This bond is further cemented by the one between Maan Kapoor and Firoz Ali Khan (Shubham Saraf), Khan’s son, a connection between the families that holds steady despite deep cracks appearing in religious harmony between Hindus and Muslims. The scenes of a Shiv temple being erected right next to a masjid give the viewer a chilling sensation of time collapsing, evoking memories of Babri Masjid–– it could be a communal riot scene from 2020.

The heart of the series, however, lies with the marital misadventures of Lata and the lovesick shenanigans of the Saeeda Bai-obsessed Maan Kapoor.  A Suitable Boy does not attempt social commentary or thoughtful insight into the consequences of Independence. All the poverty and drudgery of the 1950’s, the Zamindari Abolition Acts which tried to free oppressed peasantry, the  rise of the communist party and the sowing of the political seeds of communalism, are sketched in like incidental fillers to the main theme – a recreation of the 1950’s with vivid cinematography, great acting, and the romance of forbidden love and  difficult choices, leading to some critics calling it an orange-filtered version of India

A Suitable Boy was a first for a BBC production – a drama on colonial India with an entirely Indian cast, and the compelling performances of the cast hold the series aloft like the Tiranga, the tricolor national flag.

Ram Kapoor and Tabu give accomplished performances and newcomer Tanya Maniktala captivates and delights as Lata. (The story of how Tanya, a young, 22-year-old copywriter in Delhi landed the lead in Mira Nair’s production, is a fairy tale in itself.)

The series has received some flak from Indian reviewers for its mannered English accents and attempts to sound ‘browner.’  With the 21st century craving for authenticity in cinematic depictions, whether it’s accents or settings, the tradition of speaking beautifully enunciated English in an Indian setting for the pleasure of a Western ear occasionally jars, the way a missing button on a costume would. Mira Nair softens the blow with occasional snatches of Hindi and Urdu. In the final analysis, the accents don’t detract from the crafted charm of the story which is the kind of escape to a faraway place of beauty and intrigue that we all sorely need in these challenging times.


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing Editor at India Currents