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Rohena Gera Interview: Bombay is All About Different Worlds Brushing Against Each Other

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Rohena Gera’s film Sir after debuting at the Cannes Critics’ Week, a sidebar event at the Cannes Film Festival, has theatrically released in over 24 countries and travelled through 45 film festivals before coming home to India this month. Sir released in theatres across India on Friday.

The homecoming, Gera says, was scheduled for March, before the Covid-19  pandemic hit.

“This was always the plan. We were supposed to release it in March and the reason it took us this much time is because I was busy travelling with the film,” she says.

“It’s an interesting film. People have this idea about what a big screen movie is and how it has to be a certain kind of film for the big screen. But I feel it is the kind of film that could benefit from being on the big screen because you can go on this journey with these characters. It is a very gentle but emotional film and I think it would really benefit from not having your phone buzzing in the middle or somebody coming and talking to you or somebody disturbing you. It’s a very intimate story and I think it is nice for you to be in the dark with the movie to enjoy it and to really take that leap because the film asks you to take that leap of faith and to really follow along. So, I feel that that journey is pretty well served if you are in the dark with strangers instead of on your sofa with a hundred things happening around you,” she says.

Exploring class differences through a love story

Sir explores class differences through a love story- between a live-in domestic help (Tillotama Shome) who wants to become a fashion designer and a man (Vivek Gomber) who comes from an affluent family and feels a bit trapped by his life and career.

“It’s a story of true love where two people really bring out the best in each other. They are sort of inspired by each other, they become the best they can be because of the other person. It’s almost like a friendship and the attraction to the other person comes from that relationship, from getting to know them, really getting to understand them. And then it so happens that that person– who is making you shine, making you feel better, who understands you—is from a different part of the world or a different place in society. How much does that matter? Can love break through those barriers? That’s really what the film is about,” says Gera.

Gera feels a love story helped her explore the barriers that stem from class differences right in our homes. Having grown very close to the domestic help at her home, Gera says she was always aware that there was something problematic about the way things functioned.

“I have grown up with a domestic help and I was always very close to the woman who was around when I was a child and helped take care of me when I was little. So, I was always aware that the way that we live-it’s a bit problematic. There’s so much intimacy-the person knows you so well, they know your moods and everything. Yet, they can’t use the same mug as you to drink water or chai and there are these kinds of barriers that we put up and it was something that really bothered me, even as a child. It’s not something that is easy to talk about. I am part of the system. For me to say something is very difficult. After I made my documentary What’s Love Got To Do With It, I was talking a lot about love and the idea of love, is love important. I suddenly had the idea of approaching this topic, of class differences, as a love story. That’s where it was born,” she says.

The spirit of Mumbai in Sir

Even the city that the two lead characters live in, says Gera, looks different to each of them.

“Bombay, for him, is the ivory tower he lives in, extremely privileged, he has come back from abroad and he feels a bit trapped by his family. But for her, she comes from a village, she’s a widow and she is making her own life. In many ways, Bombay is a place of opportunities, of dreams for her. The way each of them sees the city is so different and that’s enriching for him, to see something different, to see somebody else’s point of view. To me, a love story suddenly opened up a lot of opportunities to really explore a relationship of two equals. As human beings they are equal-financially they may not be equal,” she says.

“Films about India, films that often take on subjects in India, it’s like we treat these two worlds as completely separate- this upper-class world in which he lives and her world of- someone who takes a local train and is out and about on her feet. Films usually tackle one or the other world. But Bombay is really all about these worlds brushing up against each other. That’s the beauty of the city. That’s what is really interesting for me about the film- there’s no artificial wall created that says, ‘this film will only show a certain type of crowd’ or only show the jhopadpatti (slums).”

Gera feels the spirit of Mumbai, especially that of the women of the city, has shone through in her film.

“I find the people in Bombay very inspiring. The city has a real spirit and particularly the women, you see them out and about and just doing their thing. And people find a way. Yes, it is a patriarchal society, yes it is a tough society, and it’s really difficult to survive in that city, but the women- they just get up and go. I find that extremely inspiring and I feel Bombay is also particular in the way it is mixed, there’s all these different kinds of people,” she says.

“It’s a city of dreams but it’s also a city of hardship and struggle. And I love that,” she says.

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