The usual fairy tale Indian love story ends with the lovers getting married followed by a flashy title card that reads “…And they lived happily ever after.” That is of course what any escapist audience would expect and why not? “Saathiya” sings a different tune – one rooted a little more in realism. The beauty of the film lies in the fact that it embellishes this theme with the same escapist flair and deeply touching vibrancy that characterize the tradition of Indian cinema.
Aditya Sehgal (Vivek Oberoi) awaits his wife Suhani Sharma (Rani Mukherjee) at the railway station. She is nowhere to be seen. We cut back a year to watch them meet and fall in love in the usual masala routine. When their parents meet to arrange their marriage, class conflict creeps in to squeeze out their respective superiority and inferiority complexes. Aditya leaves home and Suhani is thrown out for disrupting her elder sister’s marital plans. The couple starts a new life together, mutually agreeing to shun their parents. The new apartment is dilapidating, but all that matters is that it is their home. She for him and him for her. Then what went wrong in this paradise? Or was it ever that?
“Saathiya” takes a new look at marital life showcasing its ups and downs. The small day to day fights, ego clashes, and most of all, the expectations for everything to be as beautiful and dreamy as it was before marriage. As a director, Shaad Ali could not have asked for a better opportunity for his debut. To begin with, “Saathiya” is a re-make of the Tamil film “Alaipayuthey,” which means Shaad Ali has all his homework already done by the master Mani Ratnam, arguably one of the best directors alive. Secondly, Ali had assisted Mr. Ratnam in the making of “Alaipayuthey.” Ali not only brings in a lot more youthful energy into “Saathiya” compared to the original, but also does a fantastic job adapting Mr. Ratnam’s screenplay into a North Indian milieu. His casting is flawless and equally impressive is his ability to mold his actors’ performances. The chemistry between Vivek Oberoi and Rani Mukherjee is astounding. Both actors bring out the frustrations and confusions of their characters in great detail. Sandhya Mridul, Tanuja, and Sharat Saxena work very well together to bring about a high level of believability in the Sharma family’s middle-class lifestyle.
A.R. Rahman’s music and score, while simply re-created from the original except for two songs is as usual – fantastic. Cinematographer Anil Mehta tries a more subtle and colder look in comparison to his work in lavish productions like “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” and “Lagaan.” Editor Sreekar Prasad does a fine job of maintaining just the right level of flow and pacing in this highly fragmented narrative and gets ample support from sound designer H. Sridhar who continues to outdo himself with each subsequent film.
While it would be very unfair to compare Shaad Ali’s directorial skills with Mr. Ratnam’s, one cannot help but notice how Ali falters every time he omits those small characteristic nuances, seemingly insignificant lines, and scenes from the original script. For example, he denies Aditya from having anybody to turn to when he cannot turn to his wife. As a result, Aditya ends up a repressed man. Ali also fails to draw a clearer parallel between Shahrukh Khan and Tabu’s relationship with regard to his own protagonists. The end result is that Ali showcases the difficulties of marriage, but does not explore sentiments such as sacrifice that are required to make a marriage work. Had he just followed what Mani Ratnam had done, he would have certainly painted a more complete and fulfilling picture. However, “Saathiya” is a high quality product, the first good family film since “Devdas” that should strike a chord or two among romantic cinephiles. For those action buffs, there is always “Kaante,” another terrific film that may just give “Saathiya” a run for its money.