Poster for Sir

“Set inside the skyscrapers of modern-day Mumbai, Sir is not your typical Indian love story, nor does it necessarily work out the way you would expect.

But in this thoughtful study of class and the way it can both restrain and empower, writer-director Rohena Gera has crafted an intelligent romance within the confines of upper-crust Indian society. Premiering in the Cannes Critics’ Week sidebar, the film could occupy the same slot that The Lunchbox did back in 2013.

Ratna (Tillotama Shome, Monsoon Wedding) is a young widow who travels from her small village in the countryside to the megalopolis of Mumbai, where she’s employed by a wealthy family of builders to serve as a chambermaid for their son, Ashwin (Vivek Gomber, Court). When the film kicks off, Ashwin is about to get married, but we learn that the wedding has been called off after his fiancee was found to have had an affair. Left alone to work for his dad’s company and brood a lot around the house, Ashwin will slowly develop a bond with Ratna that extends beyond a mere master-servant relationship into something more.

Keeping the drama limited to a high-rise apartment and a few exteriors, Gera uses a classic setup—forbidden love between two lost souls—to explore questions of class, and caste, in a city that has grown from its colonial roots into a burgeoning world capital. Thus, while Ashwin enjoys the pleasures of India’s new yuppie culture, throwing small parties and playing squash with his buddies, Ratna is confined to the kitchen and her tiny bedroom, yet can still pursue a fashion design career on the side. At an earlier epoch, she would have had few options and an affair with her master would have never been conceivable, but Gera shows how times have truly changed.

Still, Indian society remains strictly hierarchical for the most part, and Sir ultimately reveals how unbridled emotions cannot survive in such an environment. Ashwin, who worked as a journalist in the U.S. before returning home after the death of his brother, is westernized in thought and attitude—he treats Ratna like a friend rather than a maid—but faces the pressure of his family and social standing. And Ratna, who as a young widow has very few opportunities in life, is smart enough to know that her story with Ashwin will never end happily ever after.

Performances from the two leads—who switch between Hindi and English depending on the situation—are strong, although Shome is often more compelling than Gomber, whose character feels a bit too restrained at times. For her first fictional effort, Gera has crafted a warmly nuanced look at love in a place filled with constraints and contradictions, and where a broken heart could perhaps be the first step toward emancipation.” (Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter)

“A Cinderella tale of sorts, the film nonetheless gains gravity for its insight into Indian social rigidities that tether both impoverished villagers and well-heeled urbanites.” (Maggie Lee, Variety)

“This is a delicately observed and attractive drama with some great Mumbai cityscapes and an excellent performance from Shome.” (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)