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Nov 26, 2008

Welcome to Sajjanpur

Ok, this is what happens when old timers decide to wear new clothes of the new times. I am trying to think of Shyam Benegal of Yatra, Mandi and Bhumika. Sajjanpur is far cry from all those, although the camera is still firmly planted in the heartland of India. I had never thought of his 2001 film, Zubeida as a genuine Benegal, from my perspective it belonged to Khalid Mohamed.. For me this is the real Benegal movie after almost a decade.

The strong alternate Indian movie current of the 80s has lost its momentum. Ketan Mehta, Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal - all the aging stalwarts of Hindi indies have been resting on their laurels. Meanwhile many commercial Bollywood movies have been bold and successful enough to cross into the territory of Independent films which is indeed a welcome change.

With Sajjanpur,we have an example how these older generation of film-makers would fare if they were to make a comeback. If you just look at the box-office statistics, Benegal's adaptation as a post-2000 Bollywood director can be touted as a success. But if I were to compare Welcome to Sajjanpur's quality with his earlier works, I'd rate this as a canned Bollywood product.

Sajjanpur is a typical northern Indian village but I as watched the movie it was hard not being able to shake off the feeling that it was just a set of a village. All the villagers who start moving as soon as the camera pans into the scene were just extras draped in the accepted contemporary rural attire. Shreyas Talpade, the hero of the movie, a letter-writer who helped illiterate people by writing their mails and postcards, comes out a little too polished with his clean shaven looks. Most of the actors played parts well (Amrita Rao, Ila Arun, Rajeshwari Sachdev, Yashpal Sharma, Divya Dutta) but something didn't jive. Was it their pancake make-up which looked out of place or their clothes which didn't seem to have been worn more than once, something about that village was not right.

The story is an interesting one. It has tried to bring to focus certain topical issues yet the same time remains entertaining.Review : 3 stars