At Cannes Critics’ Week, Sir examines the meeting of two worlds as privileged Mumbai businessman Ashwin (Vivek Gomber) falls in love with his live-in maid Ratna (Tillotama Shome). Told from her point of view, we see Ratna experiencing a new and modern empowerment, as she strives to escape both the pitfalls of the old-fashioned village life that condemned her as a young widow, and a potentially damaging affair with her employer.
For writer/ director Rohena Gera, Ratna’s drive to succeed was the vital center of the story of a changing society. “It was really about these two worlds,” she said during an interview at Deadline’s Cannes studio. “In a way, maybe she does represent the old world because she comes from a village, but to me what’s interesting is that actually it’s not that predictable. She’s not a victim. She’s actually somebody who’s dynamic. What I find very interesting about a lot of Indian women is the way that, even if they live in an extremely oppressive society, they find a way to make their lives within in that, and to not be apathetic. They will really find a way to fight.”
Being a female filmmaker, and making films about women in India has also been far from straightforward for Gera, who also made the 2011 documentary What’s Love Got to Do With it? “I’ve had to work very independently both for my little documentary and this film,” she said. “I had tried several years ago to pitch another film which had a female lead. I pitched it to a studio in Bombay and I didn’t even get through the first sentence because they realized the story was about a woman, and they said, ‘Oh, this won’t work. It’s woman oriented.’ This was maybe, I would say five or six years ago.”
But things are slowly improving for women in the industry. “A few films with female actors in the lead have worked,” she said, “so now there’s a bit of a change and there’s a bit of curiosity.”
However, Gera seems ahead of the curve when it comes to her commentary on society and the class system. “In India what’s considered edgy sometimes is, ‘Oh, we’re gonna about drugs and sex,'” she said. “Because there’s a way that they think that that’s edgy. For me, it’s edgy to actually take on society and actually ask yourself questions. But I learned to not expect too much out of it, so I’ve really done things very, very independently as a result.”
For more from Sir director Rohena Gera, click above.