In Is Love Enough? Sir, Rohena Gera uses silence and solitude to tell a story of love that develops between two individuals belonging to different social classes. The film leaves it on us to mull if love is enough to surmount their differences but gives out a tiny glimmer of hope that, perhaps, it might be. Ratna (Tillotama Shome) is a domestic helper hired to work for Ashwin (Vivek Gomber). She was to supposed work at his place after his wedding but it was eventually canceled; however, Ratna continues to work for him. A bond develops between the two built on the foundations of shared suffering and loneliness that gradually turns to love.
Ratna addresses Ashwin by the formal title ‘Sir’ but she genuinely cares for him. She puts a blanket on him when he falls asleep. Even though she is a vegetarian, she learns to prepare mutton hoping he likes it. Ashwin also treats her with kindness. He always says ‘Thank you’ to her for all the work she did for him. Someone else in his place could be less thankful to their house helper as they were only doing the job for which they were hired for. When a guest or a family member is rude to her, Ashwin tries to protect her and advises her to not feel bad for their incivility.
Ratna and Ashwin might belong to different social strata but they had a lot in common. They have both gone through similar pain. She lost her husband a few days after her wedding. He broke off with his fiancée a few days before getting married. She left her village to make a better life for her sister. He had to come to India from abroad because his brother was dying. She wants to be a designer but is working as a house help to make ends meet. He is a writer but is working in the construction business with his father. It is these similarities that bring them together. When Ratna observes Ashwin being dejected due to his break-up, she tells him her own story and tries to cheer him up that life goes on. It is from then that he starts seeing her as an individual with a story, like his own. They then slowly start to understand each other more. She protects him from the calls he does not want to take even if he never asked her to do so. She offers to keep his wedding gifts in her room to not remind him of his painful past. Ashwin, too, is able to read her moods. After a failed stint at the tailor’s shop, he senses something is wrong with her. He tries to motivate her that she is brave for the way she has moved on in life. The distance—emotional and physical—between the two of them starts to reduce.
Most of the conversations between Ratna and Ashwin happen in the corridors and the kitchen. One time, Ashwin walks into his room when Ratna is trying the dress she stitched. She is profusely apologetic and tells him that she never enters his room except for cleaning. The spaces also follow the rules of the class hierarchy. She is not allowed to be in some places. When Ratna visits a high-end boutique, the owner judges her by her appearance and signals her to leave. Another telling scene that emphasizes the aspect of space is the one when Ratna starts working with the tailor master. The first time she visits Masterji (Bachan Pachera), he asks her to clean the floor upstairs. When she enters, she cannot even stand straight in that constricted space. There is no room for her. Ratna finds her own place at the terrace where she can be the way she wants to be, away from all the spoken and the unspoken rules. It is only fitting then that the last scene of the film also happens at the terrace where she addresses Ashwin with his name for the first time. The labels and titles between them are removed.
More than love, Is Love Enough? Sir is about this desire to just be your own. At an early stage in the film, Ratna tells her sister Choti (Bhagyashree Pandit) that in the city, she can be whatever she wants to be. She might work as a “servant” but she aspires to be a fashion designer. Ashwin displays an unconscious bias when he thinks Ratna wants to be a tailor. She gets angry and rhetorically asks if she could not be a fashion designer. He tells her, she can be whatever she wants to be. He apologizes to her as he realizes, “Sabko sapne dekhne ka haq hai.” Everyone is entitled to have their dreams. Towards the end of the film, a friend Vicky (Chandrachoor Rai) reminds Ashwin that if he really cares for Ratna, then he should let her be. In his desire to prove his love, he can end up harming Ratna.
The film critiques the life of the village throughout its narrative for the same reason. In a village, Ratna is bound by the rules and is not allowed to do certain things. She cannot just be her own there. On a phone call, Ratna talks about bangles with her sister. She used to take them off before going to her home because widows in the village are not allowed to wear bangles as it is considered to be a bad omen. In another instance, Ashwin’s driver Raju (Akash Sinha) inquires from Ratna if she needs another job as people will talk that she is living with a single man all by herself. She replies to him that if she had listened to people, she would not have left the village. The people back there blamed her for the death of her husband. When Ratna returns to Mumbai after attending her sister’s wedding, she shows some pictures to Ashwin. She is not seen in any of those pictures as in her village, widows are not allowed to meet the bride on the day of their wedding. In a state of relief, she tells Ashwin that she is glad that she does not live in the village anymore. This also explains her fear that if people back in the village find anything about her liaison with Ashwin, she will be sent back.
In another scene, Ratna narrates her background story when she was married off at the age of nineteen. Her husband died a few months after the wedding. In the village, it means that life is over as soon as a woman becomes a widow. Life khatam ho gayi. But Ratna finds a job in Mumbai and earns her own living. She also supports her family back in the village. Life did not end for her. The city not only provides her a means to escape her fate but also gives her the opportunities to be whatever she wants to be. In a flashback scene, Sabina (Rashi Mal) advises Ratna to ignore all superstitions and bad omens reiterating the same essence of freedom in the city. “Yeh sheher hai, gaon nahi hai. Yahan na apni zindagi khud banate hai, apne rules se,” she tells Ratna. This is the city, not the village. Here, you build your own life and play by your own rules. The village dictates to her; the city lets her choose.
Ratna’s younger sister Choti is also enamored with the city. She wants to wear the type of dresses that are worn by the people of the city. She leaves her studies early and agrees to get married because the guy lives in the city as she wants to be there, too. Ratna worries that her sister’s fiancé will not allow Choti to finish her education. But Ashwin tries to convince her that ‘sheher ke ladke‘ are not that bad. The guy, actually, allows her to finish her studies.
It is often said that empathy is the ability to step outside of one’s own bubble and into the bubbles of other people. Ratna takes Ashwin to her place—the terrace—and tells him that she always thought the rich people had an easy life but it isn’t. She learns something about people not like her own. Ashwin, too, is also shown to become more understanding of people not like him. When he receives a shirt as a gift from Ratna, he initially puts it aside as it was not something of his taste. But then he wears it and even goes to work wearing it. He is trying to become a part of another bubble. At another stage in the film, he goes to see the living conditions of the labor force working for him. I also really admired that the film gives a redemption arc to Ashwin’s friend Ankita (Anupriya Goenka) who behaves rudely with Ratna. But, later, she is the one who helps Ratna fulfill her dream of becoming a designer. It tries to treat everyone with empathy and kindness.
The film has some nicely-shot sequences that add wonderful layers to its narrative. In a lovely scene that appears near the end, Ratna is serving the guests at a party. Not one guest bothers to stop and glance at her. Ashwin is the only one who looks at her. In another instance, Ratna says Ashwin cannot leave even if he wanted to do so. He is trapped here. The film shows the same where he is often seen boxed behind bars and frames. In one particular sequence, he even comes out from an elevator that resembles a cage. Another recurring scene in the film depicts the contrast between Ratna and Ashwin where the camera moves from his side to hers. He has all the space for him while she is cramped up in a little room. This is also seen in the film’s poster; they both are standing on opposite sides of a wall. It represents the barriers that have been put up between the two of them. This is reminiscent of the wonderful scene in Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance when Zafar Khan (Hrithik Roshan) meets a bunch of street kids in his car. He and the kids belong to two different worlds separated by the glass window. The camera moves from the kids’ side towards the Zafar’s symbolizing the class barriers between the two. Akhtar, in fact, also made a story about a domestic help named Sudha (Bhumi Pednekar) in the anthology Lust Stories. Sudha is in a physical relationship with her employer Ajit (Neil Bhoopalam). When Ajit’s wedding is fixed with a girl by his parents belonging to his class, Sudha silently accepts that she could never have been a match for him. Akhtar chooses to call the relationship lust. Gera chooses to focus on love even though her film is teeming with moments of sexual tension without any explicit sexual activity between the characters. Another tiny detail that I found common in both films was the way Sudha and Ratna always took out their sandals while entering the house.
The separating walls in Is Love Enough? Sir and Luck By Chance.
He is in a cage.
Is Love Enough? Sir and Lust Stories
Rohena Gera has previously written Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi, Kuch Na Kaho, and Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic. The notable thing that stands out in her work the love story that develops between the employer and the employee, as also seen in Is Love Enough? Sir. In Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi, a simple Jassi (Mona Singh) falls in love with her Armaan ‘Sir’ (Apurva Agnihotri). In Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, a fairy Geeta (Rani Mukerji) is sent to earth to work as a governess and falls in love with her employer Ranbir (Saif Ali Khan). In many interviews, Gera has mentioned that when she was growing up, she saw a lot of inequality and now wishes to depict the same on the screen.
Jassi and Armaan Sir
Is Love Enough? Sir is driven by the fantastic performance of Tillotama Shome. In Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding as well, Shome had played the character of domestic help named Alice, who becomes the object of the affection of the wedding planner Dubey Ji (Vijay Raaz). Alice, like her namesake from Alice In Wonderland, always daydreamed but finds her charming prince in Dubey Ji. Ratna’s story seems realistic but does not seem different from a fairy tale. Shome brings immense grace and poise to Ratna. There is not one false note in her terrific performance. Her delicate physicality (as compared to Gomber’s when they are in the same frame) adds another layer of contrast to Ratna and Ashwin. There is a lovely moment when Ashwin calls Ratna during her sister’s wedding to ask about her well-being. Even though he cannot see Ratna as they are speaking on a call, she adjusts her saree’s pallu. Unconsciously, her mind tells her that he can see her. She had done the same earlier in the film when Ashwin comes to the kitchen but this time, he is not even physically present. It is beautiful and thoughtful. I was thinking of another Tilottama who is one of the principal characters in Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Tilottama is in love with the quiet, gentle Musa, a Kashmiri who later becomes a militant working to secede Kashmir from India. In a stunning paragraph, Roy describes their relationship and adds that the quietness of the one fits with the other. “The quietness of her into the quietness of him.” It is a description that fits Ratna and Ashwin as well. After the film gets over, it is the moments of their quietness that stay with us for long.
Alice in Monsoon Wedding.
[Read more of the author’s work on his blog here]