Abortion has often been demonised on screen, and 'Sara's' is refreshing in taking a different view of the issue.

Anna Ben and Sunny Wayne riding a scooter in Sara's
Flix Review Tuesday, July 06, 2021 - 16:14
Worth a watch

Anna Ben's big, bright smile can lighten up the darkest hellhole, and perhaps you need an actor with this amount of on screen likeability to play Sara in Jude Anthany Joseph's latest release that examines a woman's right to abortion. Although the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in India is fairly liberal, abortion has many a time been equated with 'baby murder' in cinema. Don Palathara's Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam, which premiered at the International Film Festival of Kerala earlier this year, also explored a similar theme but with just the couple in focus, traveling to the hospital in a car.

Sara's, however, involves the entire family circus. Anna Ben plays Sara, an assistant director, who is looking to make her first feature film (she somehow lives in a gorgeous apartment though). Before we see her as a grown-up, we meet her as a schoolgirl (a throwback to Jude's debut film Ohm Shanthi Oshana) — she's very interested in physical intimacy but breaks up with her boyfriend when the two of them argue over her unwillingness to have kids in the future. They are eating egg puffs in this scene, and the camera focuses on the fallen egg. The question in the air is, can Sara ever be seen as anything more than an egg producing machine? It's a recurring reference in the film, brought up at different junctures. Sara certainly believes that the answer is 'yes', and has no intention of getting into the baby trap. But can that be so easy in a society where marriage and motherhood are considered mandatory for women?

I found myself thinking of SJ Surya's character, Arul, from Karthik Subbaraj's Iraivi. He's a depressed, alcoholic director whose film is stuck in the cans, and at one point, he compares it to a baby who is yet to be delivered. Romanticising pregnancy and referring to something that has taken a lot of work and effort as "my baby" is common parlance, but for Sara, a woman professional in a male dominated field like cinema, an actual baby will ruin her fledgling career. But not wanting to make it solely a clash between work and family, Jude also makes it clear that Sara had taken the call to never become a mother even before she decided her profession. In contrast to Sara's well defined ideas about life, Sunny Wayne's Jeevan seems too casual and other than not wanting kids himself, it's difficult to say why the two of them are drawn to each other. It's also puzzling that while Sara is ready to defy convention when it comes to motherhood, she feels compelled to find 'someone' to marry to satisfy her parents' wishes. I couldn't shake off the feeling that she could have done better than Jeevan. Sunny Wayne does the bare minimum and the chemistry between the two is rather lukewarm. 

The writing (Akshay Hareesh) revolves too much around the baby subject, not exploring the relationship between the couple beyond it. But still, the light-hearted tone may make the serious subject more palatable to a conservative audience. It's a debate that I had with myself when watching Kettiyolaanu Ente Malakha, too. A film that discussed marital rape in a 'family audience friendly' way. It took some convenient turns in the plot to arrive at a happy ending, and though I worried that this diluted the gravity of the crime and its treatment, I also had to acknowledge that a heavier film would have found only a niche crowd to appreciate it.

Watch: Trailer of Sara's

While the charming Anna Ben carries the film on her shoulders, the supporting cast does a decent job. The characters, though, are too glib to be believable. The conflicts in the screenplay are light as soap bubbles, rising and dissolving in seconds. Mallika Sukumaran plays the stern mother-in-law who is disapproving of Sara's unwillingness to have a child. Yet, it takes only a single dialogue from Sara for her to change her mind. Similarly, the argument between Sara and Jeevan finds a disappointing resolution with a lecture from a doctor that borders on mansplaining in the guise of counselling. Her parents (the father is played by Anna's real life dad Benny P Nayarambalam), who were on her case to get married, are extremely supportive of everything she does; which planet did they parachute from, you wonder. You get the sense that everyone is saying all the right-sounding things rather than the things that they would have actually said had they been real people, and the writing becomes too deliberate and pleasant to the point of screeching (even a nasty relative on Jeevan's side turns a new leaf) in the second half.

The film also suffers from an affliction that is common to many female-led stories. The makers feel compelled to show 'different' kinds of women making 'different' choices that are right for them. The idea behind it is to not project only one kind of life as emancipatory, but what this also does is to fracture the focus of the story, and distract attention from the central character's convictions and interests. Films revolving around men making all kinds of decisions, from when to press the nuclear button to sperm donation, don't feel the pressure to write in many 'other' kinds of men when following their lead character's story.

Still, there are some bold leaps that Jude makes with Sara's, particularly when it comes to religion, contraception and pregnancy (I admit I chuckled at the karthavu-barthavu line). He also takes a jibe at husbands who generously 'give' permission to women to pursue a career. The film has its heart in the right place, and the title gets you thinking as the credits roll. It could have just been called Sara, but the possessive form of the noun is also a reiteration of the film's philosophy. A woman's right to her own body. Whatever be the quibbles and disagreements, that is still worthy of applause.

At just about 2 hours, Sara's presents an offbeat, difficult theme in a mainstream fashion that can be watched comfortably by everyone in the drawing room. That can be read as either the film's victory or its undoing.

The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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