“Cannes isn’t a pleasant surprise, it’s a dream you don’t dare to dream that’s suddenly reality,” says Gera
Selected for the Cannes Critics’ Week, debutant director Rohena Gera’s Sir is a romantic drama set in Mumbai, portraying the blossoming love between Ashwin (Vivek Gomber of Court fame) and Ratna (Tillotama Shome), a widow who happens to be his domestic help.
The last time a first-time Indian director went to the Cannes Critics’ Week, Ritesh Batra came back with the viewer’s choice award for The
Lunchbox (2013). Will Gera be equally successful?
In Sir, she seeks to challenge the class dynamics of the relationship between the householder and the help, who live with the family but are never part of it.
“Your cleaning lady shouldn’t sit on your sofa. Your child’s nanny shouldn’t eat at the table with your child. But my question is, how is it that you can entrust your child to her, but not your crockery?” says Gera in an e-mail interview. “We consider this ‘the norm’ in India, but I think it needs to be questioned.”
An English graduate from Stanford University with a master’s degree in fine arts in fiction and poetry from the Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Gera, on her return to India, struggled with the “segregation” and “inequities”. Sir, she says, emerged from the need to understand how love is free of barriers until societal prejudices emerge. The quest while writing was to do so without being “preachy or self-righteous”.
Sir is a far cry from Gera’s previous work. After a brief stint as a production assistant in the US, Gera co-wrote two Hindi films, Kuch Na
Kaho and Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, and more than 40 episodes of the popular TV series Jassi Jaisi Koi
Nahin. Subsequently, she launched the ‘Stop the Hatred’ campaign, which roped in celebrities to speak up against communalism, and made a documentary, What’s Love Got to Do
with It?, about arranged marriages. Sir was written after the film. With a little help from private non-film investors and her husband, Brice Poisson, Gera raised money to make her feature debut. “I didn’t want to make the wrong compromises,” she says. “We knew we had to work within a tight budget, but our priorities were aligned.”
A world premiere in Cannes is every filmmaker’s fantasy, of course. “We had hoped for an A festival to get the film going,” says Gera. “Cannes isn’t a pleasant surprise, it’s a dream you don’t dare to dream that’s suddenly reality.”