Sairat, a searing indictment of caste discrimination, features two absolutely unknown untried faces in the lead. Made at a reported cost of Rs 4 crores, the film has already grossed more than Rs 50 crores. And, it's still early times.
The film's shy director Nagaraj Manjule, no stranger to fame as his first feature film Fandry was highly acclaimed, is not comfortable with the sudden upsurge of public attention. His phone is switched off during most of the day as he has strangers calling up to discuss the film and characters.
Says Nagraj, "Maharashtrians have embraced the film as if they own the characters. Sairat is not a film for them. It is a part of their lives." What surprises Nagraj is the way non-Maharashtrians have taken to the film. "This is most unexpected. I knew the film would make an impact. But, I never knew it would cross the language barrier so easily and in such overwhelming numbers. Today, when Aamir Khan or Irrfan Khan tweets about the film, it's a huge thing for me."
Nagraj, who comes from a very humble background, says Sairat was a story that had to be told. "I knew it would make an impact because this not just story written to accommodate a film. Its theme of inter-caste relationship and marriage connects with our entire country. So I won't pretend the success was unexpected. In fact, I had warned my two lead actors that it would be near- impossible for them to step out of their homes alone once the film is released. I told them to enjoy the freedom of movement as long as they were shooting."
How Nagaraj chose two completely unknown untried faces of Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru to play the lead is another story. "My brother saw Akash on the street and told me he is the boy I am looking for to play Parshya in my film. I met Akash. He was so shy he could barely mumble a few words. But, it didn't take much persuasion to get him on board. As for Rinku Rajguru, she is the daughter of a lady I know in my village. I knew she was Archie the minute I saw her."
Nagaraj worked extensively with his two principal actors to ensure they got the rhythm right. "It was important for them to not look like actors. They had to transform into the two protagonists Akash and Archie. Luckily for my film, this is exactly what happened. Audiences see them as the characters."
Nagraj stoutly denies being inspired by Bollywood love stories Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Ek Duje Ke Liye, as reported in sections of the press. "So many interviews have put words in my mouth. I've never said Sairat is homage to these Bollywood love stories. I've grown up watching Bollywood films. Rather than being inspired by them, I've absorbed the pitfalls of commercial cinema and how to avoid them in my cinema. So, I'd say Bollywood has taught me what not to do rather than what to do in my cinema."
Sairat and its message of social discrimination have touched millions of hearts by now. Nagraj hopes to do many more films about social inequality. There is talk of remaking Sairat into various languages. But, at the moment, Nagraj shoots down all such speculation. "Right now, we should just allow Sairat to grow. Its reach has exceeded anything any of us had ever hoped for. We are now sitting back to see where Sairat is heading. We are enjoying the journey."