‘Is Love Enough? Sir’ is a fiercely honest and incredibly tactile tale about an unconventional love in a ruthless city. For those of you who haven't seen it, here is a brief summary: Ratna, a young widow, works for a wealthy young Bombay architect, Ashwin, as a maid. Ashwin has left his marriage at the altar and returned to an empty home with nobody but Ratna to keep him company. Ratna is devoted to Ashwin and fiercely nurtures the dream of becoming a fashion designer one day, something she's actively working towards. In some sense, Ashwin and Ratna have nobody but each other to celebrate with, to grieve with and be vulnerable with and over time, the two fall deeply and irrevocably in love with each other but find themselves tethered by society and its inscrutable hierarchies.
The story is fairly simple, maybe even one that has been told before. But the things that make this film a wonderfully cathartic, cinematic experience are its effortless penchant for nuance and an almost unreal humility and honesty. The film brilliantly establishes its premise via a series of delicate dualities: Ashwin’s movements are brisk and agile, Ratna lingers and hovers.
Ashwin lives in the ‘rooms’ of the house, Ratna lives in the spaces in between these rooms.
Ashwin’s spaces are well lit and ambient, Ratna’s spaces are dark and a constant reminder of the noise of the city and ipso facto, her place in it.
Ashwin lounges and socialises with his friends at clubs and such, Ratna meets Laxmi Bai at the steps or the terraces.
Ashwin speaks in sentences, Ratna in words.
Tillotama Shome’s Ratna is instantly likeable. For the entirety of the film, one cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of care and protectiveness for her delicate yet incredibly fierce and nurturing presence. This film belongs to her and the beautiful thing about this is that she doesn’t ask for it. It’s just hers.
Some of the warmest and most endearing scenes of the film are when Ratna organises the material she has purchased for her tailoring classes with childlike exuberance and even when she opens Ashwin’s present for her. You are with her in those moments, celebrating, going through the full force of the gushing emotions racing through her body and soaking in every drop of happiness oozing from her infectious smile.
What also makes the film so visceral is its fine understanding of balance in complex relationships. It never stereotypes or even pushes the limits of its premise.
Ashwin’s apologies to Ratna are always reserved for when everybody leaves, never immediately.
Ratna understands her own limitations when she accepts the fact that she is pressing upon her sister what she thinks is best for her, and that one’s aspirations should be free of whatever anybody thinks is best for them, something she is struggling with daily.
Lakshmi Tai excitedly stops to buy jasmine flowers for herself. At that, one is reminded of how simple and primal desire is. In our popular portrayal of complex characters, it is these delicate human details that we always forget to add.
The response for this film is a comforting reminder that Indian audiences have a fine sense of appreciation for cinema, that appeals to honest emotions and profound realities. A maid in Bombay needn’t be a gaudily dressed, loud and lazy woman called Gangu Bai who is a perpetual latecomer. She can be a shy, fiercely ambitious and unflinchingly brave and nurturing woman like Ratna. Or she can even be a warm, supportive and unwaveringly loyal woman like Lakshmi Tai.
This film reaffirms my belief that if filmmakers choose to make meaningful cinema instead of making films that end up being an absolute mockery of their craft, Indian audiences will respond positively. The state of popular Indian cinema is not what it is only because of the preferences of Indian audiences but also because of the stinking creative rot that exists amongst the filmmakers at the top. Rohena Gera’s ‘Is Love Enough? Sir’ stands as a testimony of what Indian cinema can do with a little sensitivity and effort. I sincerely hope to see more films like this celebrated by Indian audiences in the future.