Sahela review: Raghuvir Joshi’s debut feature unveils issues of intimacy, desire and the burden of familial expectations from a newly married couple!

Aishwarya Srinivasan
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Sahela review

Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival: In our Sahela review we talk about the authenticity of the film and more!

Sahela review: When the film starts, you have this notion of it being another family drama or a typical rom-com. This is because Vir (Antonio Aakeel) and Nitya (Anula Navlekar) seem like a happily married couple who literally cannot stay apart. They’re in what they call the ‘honeymoon phase’. The two live with Vir’s conservative Gujarati family, and Nitya seems to be easily adapting to their lifestyle. Everything feels like any normal Indian family would look like until the plot unfolds and you see that it’s so much more than just a family drama!

Behind closed doors, Vir and Nitya have intimacy issues. It was never a matter of concern for Nitya until she started seeing a pattern. It was repetitive and could no longer be taken casually. Suppressed by the burden that he’s been carrying on his shoulders all his life, Vir finally could not take it anymore and confesses to Nitya about his true sexuality. And life as they knew it turns upside down. This bubble that they were living in, the happy facade that they put up for their families could no longer go forward. As Vir owns his truth and begins his journey of self-discovery, Nitya has to unlearn everything she knows and accept the reality of her marriage, which is super tough for her. Their families, too, are intertwined in many ways. Vir’s parents take a loan from Nitya’s mom Leena (Sheeba Chaddha), to pay their mortgage and keep their grocery shop running. What looks like the perfect couple is now in the middle of so many complexities that they need to figure out.

Also Read: Here’s what I watched at Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on day 5!

Just because NRI Indians live abroad doesn’t mean they would necessarily be open-minded about things, and this film authentically portrays that. In fact the constant Pujas by Vir’s parents and the blind faith in an astrologer are proof that the further you live away from your home country, the more you want to be invested in culture so you feel like you haven’t forgotten your roots. They might have an Aussie accent, but they're super conservative, even by Indian standards. And while the film shows Vir’s helplessness of being closeted for so long and everyone’s reaction to it, it’s still not too dramatic, in the face, or loud. No one’s throwing things around in despair; rather, it's how each of them deals with it in their own way. The film also highlights that lust and love are two very different things. Vir might not be sexually attracted to Nitya, but he never lied when he said that he loves her. Nitya too, might be mad at Vir for not being completely honest with her before getting married, but that doesn’t mean her love for him will fade away. The scenes where they play the sitar together were one of my favorites. It shows they're so close yet so far to each other. 

The camera angles, especially during scenes of nudity and sex, are done in a way that speaks volumes about what’s a safe space and what’s not. What’s okay in bed, and what’s too much. Showing Vir drawing boundaries and exploring what works for him, taking small steps, looks like an important and conscious effort. It holds the mirror to the fact that the pressure of being closeted comes from gender norms set by society and familial pressure. Vir, an only son of his Gujarati parents, had to give them what they wanted. Which was getting married and settling down. His parents would rather be okay with him living a lie than telling the truth. Life is so much more than just following what society expects of you and being scared of judgements. 

Sahela is a poignant story that unravels and talks about so many topics that need to be brought into the spotlight and stir a conversation amongst families who don’t know better than ‘log kya kahenge?’

Sahela had its Indian premiere at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival this year!

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Sheeba Chaddha Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival Sahela Sahela review Vir and Nitya from Sahela Antonio Aakeel Anula Navlekar Raghuvir Joshi