Movie Review – Welcome to Sajjanpur

By Vidya Pradhan

Why give your movie an English name when it is entirely set in the North Indian heartland? Shyam Benegal’s latest is set in the sleepy village of Sajjanpur, situated at a vague distance from the big bad metropolis of Mumbai and populated by quirky characters straight out of Nukkad.

In tone and treatment, this movie resembles nothing as much as Hari Bhari, the director’s previous folksy effort from 2000. Mahadev(Shreyas Talpade), is a letter writer for the village and its surrounding district. He ekes out a fragile existence in the age of SMSs and email, lucky to be surrounded by illiterate people with serious issues.

In the course of this 2 hour-plus movie, his job gets him involved with abandoned wives, crooked politicians, superstitious mothers and forbidden lovers. As he writes his missives, some pleading, some angry, mostly pathetic, he gets drawn in the squabbles and situations of his clients despite himself.

It is certainly an intriguing concept – the letter writer as an observer. And Shreyas Talpade is a fine actor. He brings the right amount of insouciance and low key slyness to the part, as comfortable in the rural milieu as he was in Dor. He is surrounded by a ensemble of actors including some who are familiar with the low budget environment like Ila Arun and Rajit Kapoor and some who are straight out of Bollywood like Kunal Kapoor( strictly a cameo) and Amrita Rao.

The trouble is, except for Yashpal Sharma as the local thug, everybody looks completely out of place even as they turn in decent performances. Amrita Rao looks sweet and fragile and emotes well, but she is just not convincing as the newly wed whose husband left her to work in the city the day after the marriage. Ila Arun gets in some good zingers but she is over the top as the mother of a “mangli” daughter who, she believes, needs to be married off to a dog first to avoid bad luck. I guess she provided the comic element.

Welcome to Sajjanpur is marketed as a comedy, but the script is all over the place. There are some genuinely horrifying moments in the movie when local elections threaten an all-out war between the factions and the movie ends on a melancholy note. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with this movie, but if I had to guess, I would say that the director tries to do too much. Shreyas Talpade plays it like a comedy, but there are NFDC-like messages on challenging superstition and equal rights for eunuchs; there is also a human interest story with the letter writer getting involved with one of his clients – all this leads to a mishmash that lacks coherence. The fantasy song sequences don't help – the only explanation for putting your lead characters in a helicopter wearing western clothes has to be either a craven attempt to attract the mainstream audiences or a contractual obligation with the actors.

I believe that the working title in India was Mahadev Ka Sajjanpur. I don’t know if it was released in Indian theaters under that name or if it was released in theaters at all, but it seems much more suited to the medium of television than a large screen. Just like Hari Bhari, it is a gentle, meandering look at the peculiarities of the Indian village and its people and is sure to please TV audiences. As a movie, it feels poorly directed and does not grab the attention at any point. In fact, it would probably make for an excellent weekly serial.

Welcome to Sajjanpur is available on DVD at your local Indian stores – possibly in original print since the quality of the one I watched was excellent.

Welcome to Sajjanpur

Directed by Shyam Benegal

*ring Shreyas Talpade, Amrita Rao,

My Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5.

6 thoughts on “Movie Review – Welcome to Sajjanpur

  1. Sajag

    I could not understand any of the logic presented here!

    1. Why give your movie an English name when it is entirely set in the North Indian heartland?

    What about Autograph in South Indian heartland (if that is a word!). And I think autograph is an English word. Or is it invented somewhere else – enlighten me, please.

    2. In the course of this 2 hour-plus movie, his job gets him involved with abandoned wives, crooked politicians,…

    In one movie from south indian heartland, an actor went though some 10 transformations, another actor threw a knife like a boomerang (got thrown away from his clinched teeth, killed the villain, and again came back to be attached between his teeth!) – somebody told me.

    3.The fantasy song sequences don’t help – the only explanation for putting your lead characters in a helicopter wearing western clothes

    As far as I know, in Indian movies, it is mostly fantasy at work. In some parts of India, more the fantasy, the better will be the eyeball catch. Hence, we see a number of actor-chief ministers in many places!

    If Shaharukh can get 2 hits with rebirth fundas and Rajani can look magically white in a movie, what do you expect from standard Indian movies anyway?

    Review of “Review”: 1 out of 5, yes I do watch Indian movies and my mother is a teacher!

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  2. vpdot Post author

    I think you missed my point, Sajag. Here is a movie with a warm, compelling idea – I think you will agree that Shyam Benegal was not out to make a commercial blockbuster starring top names. So why mess it up with unnecessary pandering? Why not keep it cohesive and true to itself?

    Of course Bollywood is all about fantasy – which is why we like and appreciate the rare movies that stray from the beaten path. Welcome to Sajjanpur had the opportunity to do that, and in my humble opinion, missed it.

    My best example would be some of Kukunoor’s movies like Iqbal and Dor, which managed to be entertaining and compelling without putting in much of the mainstream masala. Masala belongs in a certain genre of movies – like the Rajnikanth, Shahrukh kinds. We know what to expect there and discount it fully going in. Inserted into a perfectly decent movie that doesn’t need it? That jars.

    Looking forward to more spirited discussion on the movies – let’s just agree to disagree on this one. 🙂

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  3. Geeta Padmanabhan

    Does anyone remember Chit Chor? Naram Garam? Chashme Baddoor? And that Nasiruddeen Shah – Deepti Naval movie? How would you categorise them genre-wise?

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  4. ram

    i know shyam benegal personally so there is a bias..but somehow this movie i have a very different perspective then Vidya has..this movie has worked and become a hit for precisely for it not being preachy..i am going to share with Shyam babu this review.

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  5. Sajag

    Vidya, agreed. Thanks for making it clear.

    Well, the *middle cinema* form that one reader pointed out is not very much in vogue now. I guess you belong to the generation of Indians who saw the freedom firsthand and had also fought for it. As a matter of fact, these movies still represent the real India. But, my generation just do not watch it – they can not digest the reality of entire India.

    As another reader pointed out, we watch movies which are not preachy – my extension – colorful, sass-bahoo drama, NRI returning home, NRI look likes dancing all the time at the Swiss Alps – actually cuts the ice now a days with our generation. I also watch them – brain closed, eyes open, popcorn in hand, and of course no hangover afterwards – as I know what I watched was megacrap!

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  6. Geeta Padmanabhan

    Just watched the movie and agree with Vidya 100%. It is certainly funny in parts and has some unforgettable moments, but put together, what is it all about.? I switched off wondering,”So what does Shyam Benegal say here?” And put it down to my inability to understand the nuances of village HIndi. The movie is like a set of colourful photographs with excellent captions – it’s fun going through them, but what do they all add up to?

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