“Is love enough?” reads the first half of the title of the film more commonly being referred to by just the second-half – Sir. Is love enough? To break the deeply entrenched class and caste barriers in our society, to be happy, to sustain an unconventional relationship… to live. Almost every Bollywood rich-person-and-poor-person love story till date seems to suggest a hard yes or no. Be it the tragic endings of Mughal-E-Azam or Devdas, or the happy ones in Bobby and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Bollywood has depicted relationships between people of different economic statuses in a manner that is dramatised and fantastical enough to be palatable.
Rohena Gera’s exploration of the relationship between Ratna (Tillotama Shome), a live-in maid, and her employer, Ashwin (Vivek Gomber), in her latest Netflix release has no dramatic flairs, long longing stares, villainous fathers, or songs of heartbreak. The reality of the world she depicts – our world – provides all the drama and heartbreak we need. It is the only film among all the ones I’ve mentioned, that actually makes you wonder if love would be enough, while watching it. It is also the only one that doesn’t provide a simple yes-or-no answer to the question.
Is Love… Appropriate?
“With the kind of office policies we have today, I, being the man, would have been fired,” an uncle said laughingly, while recounting the story of how he, the boss, had approached one of his subordinates – now his wife – at work. He, the boss, had the authority and power to ruin the career of his subordinate, had she not reciprocated his advances, I had said. The organisational policies exist for a reason, and they must apply to both genders in positions of authority, I had added. The hierarchal gap, even when not unthinkable, is still unprofessional, to cross. We need rules in such a situation to ensure no one is hurt.
But what organisational policies apply when the workplace is someone’s space of living, and workplace romance crosses a hierarchy gap that is more unthinkable than unprofessional?
Ashwin, in the film, is a good employer – one of the best. He never ill-treats Ratna, he never yells about her taking leaves, he stands up for her. But, as the film progresses, he also falls in love with her. Ratna, who seems to love her employer as well, doesn’t need laws to protect her from him. But Ratna also knows that at the end of the day she must protect herself, not so much from him, but from the relationship. There are no actionable rules to ensure no one gets hurt for a social gap as large as a relationship between an employer and his domestic help.
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The Film Highlights How Work, Dreams, And Passion Mean Different Things For Different People
Ratna is a widow. In her village, for a widow to even wear bangles is taboo. When she comes to the city to work and pay for her younger sister’s education, even when working as a domestic worker, she feels freer than she did in the village. She wears bangles every day.
However, she talks of wanting to learn how to tailor, admitting to Ashwin one day that she always wanted to be a fashion designer. She looks on longingly at the mannequins in a designer’s showroom. She rushes away from her work at Ashwin’s house for two hours everyday to clean up for free at the local tailor’s shop, hoping to eventually learn from him. When that doesn’t work out, she takes a loan from her friend and registers for a professional tailoring course.
The usually mellow Ratna comes alive in these spaces outside of her work.
However, when Ratna’s sister tells her that she has agreed to marriage, and has put her education on hold, Ratna is distraught. “I thought Choti would have a life that I could not have,” she tearfully tells Ashwin. Ratna doesn’t want her sister to be a domestic worker like she is, or for her dreams to be limited to tailoring.
Her passions, be it in her career or in love, are always tied to her position in society, her poverty, and filled with roadblocks that she knows she won’t be able, or allowed, to cross.
Ashwin’s problems – he is working for his father’s business but wants to be a writer – while no less real, seem comparatively frivolous. Even in love, he is significantly less worried –the consequences of a relationship with Ratna would definitely not be felt as viciously by him.
The film then does a great job of highlighting how different the meaning of work, passion, and dreams, is for different people from different backgrounds.
If There’s One Thing Last Year’s Lockdown Taught Us, It’s The Value Of Workers From The Unorganised Sector… So Have They Been Given The Value They Deserve Now?
The pandemic and the lockdowns caused most of our work lives, workplaces, and work rules, to go through a massive upheaval. It also had most of us thinking about our domestic help more than ever – be it in longing while we were sweeping our houses for the first time in forever, or in concern at how they must be dealing with the crisis.
Even now, most offices have smaller teams coming into the workplace, some come on alternate days, and some are still trying to work with what work-from-home allows them. However, now that most domestic workers are back to coming to the homes they work in, little seems to have changed for them – be it in their work, salaries or how they are perceived and treated.
The unorganised sector is clearly not allowed the privilege of the same “new normal”, that the rest of the world is. Their normal is the same old, if not worse, given the extra precautions they must take.
Is love enough to bridge this privilege gap; to unite us? It should be, it could be, but right now, it isn’t. Society is still poisonously classist, there still exist dividing lines of superiority and inferiority, and Sir is still the part of the title in bold.
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