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FR 4 – Married to a Dog – Shyam Benegal’s WELCOME TO SAJJANPUR (2008)

January 22, 2009

Mad Professor Marks: 7 out of 10

Young woman Vindhya Pannawali (Divya Dutta) is dressed up as a bride and seated next to the holy fire. A marriage ceremony is about to begin and its purpose is to neutralize Vindhya’s bad karma/luck/whatever as her mother is obsessed with the idea that her daughter is amangla/unlucky. Thoroughly humiliated Vindhya argues with her mother Ramsakhi Pannawali (terrific Ila Arun) how she can do this to her. As the groom arrives, a small white saturday-born dog wearing a golden turban and a light-brown dhoti, unnerved Vindhya runs away and we witness a marvelous scene as the superstitious mother holding the groom in her arms plus the entire marriage party chases her through the streets of Sajjanpur.

Ah yes, Sajjanpur. Apparently it used to be called Durjanpur, but when India’s first Prime Minister Nehru visited the small town, he renamed it. Sajjanpur is a typical town in rural area of Northern India, possibly U. P., home to various colorful characters: First of all there is Mahadev Kuswah (Shreyas “Iqbal” Talpade) who has studied in the big city and is now a letter-writer with a small table under a big tree. Among his customers are superstitious Ramsakhi Pannawali, blindly following the nonsencial advice of a Brahmin priest to neutralize the bad luck and inauspiciousness of her daughter, then there is a woman accused of murder running for a political post, a snake charmer, Munnibai Mukhrani, an eunuch running for the same political post, a retired soldier guarding his pretty young widow daughter and of course Kamla (Amrita Rao, known from THE LEGEND OF BHAGAT SINGH, VIVAH, MAIN HOON NA etc.).

Kamla is Mahadev’s childhood sweetheart. Although she is already married since four years, her husband is in Mumbai and only writes occasionally. As innocent Kamla, a potter, asks Mahadev to read her husband’s letters and to answer them, Mahadev begins a manipulative game in the hope to turn Kamla against her husband and to win her for himself.

WELCOME TO SAJJANPUR is definetly one of the finest Hindi comedies of 2008, director Shyam Benegal and writer Ashok Mishra have given us a whole range of beautifully drawn and memorable characters which make the film a light-hearted comedy with meaning and depth.

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