Director Venky Atluri tells a simple story about empowerment through education and executes it with earnestness
Last Updated: 09.41 AM, Feb 17, 2023
Balu, a small-time lecturer in a private educational institute, is transferred to a village Siripuram, as part of an initiative to empower government colleges across the state. However, when several students drop out of college while grappling with their daily realities, Balu decides to take charge of the situation and alters the course of their lives. Will he succeed in his pursuit? What’re the challenges he’d have to confront? Will the students live up to his expectations?
Director Vetrimaaran, in an event held many moons ago, had spoken of the mistake that most mainstream filmmakers commit - showcase the protagonist as a know-it-all, who can solely transform the society and the world around him. Sir nearly succumbs to this school of thought but it, fortunately, prioritises its core theme over the protagonist. Balu may be a changemaker in Sir, but he views education as a tool of change, its ability to be a guiding light amidst turmoil.
Sir is cut from the same cloth as another Samuthirakani film Sattai (who ironically plays the evil corporate baron in the film) - a selfless teacher, who sees education as a beacon of hope, is the driving force of the students. He doesn’t scream for attention and confronts all roadblocks that obstruct him with assurance. He isn’t out to change the system, his core motive remains to ensure the accessibility of education for all.
There’s no pretence from writer-director Venky Atluri about making a message-driven film. His ideas are clear; he keeps the backdrop simple, relatable and doesn’t raise the stakes beyond necessity. It’s a personalised tale, focused about its plot and doesn’t alienate the masses, while offering them a good mix of humour, action and catchy music. While there’s enough meat in the film to please Dhanush’s fans, the average viewer is likely to resonate with the ‘message’.
Much like Dhanush’s earlier film Thiruchitrambalam, the setup is familiar, you know where’s the story heading towards and yet you don’t mind investing in its world. The strategy to place the premise in the 90s is incredibly smart; not only does it ensure an old-world charm and nostalgia but also helps you look at the film’s ‘burning’ issue from a certain distance. The hat-tip to the early days of liberalisation, the era of STD booths, video cassettes has a purpose to it.
While Venky Atluri parodied himself at Sir’s promotional events about setting the second half of his earlier films in international locations (Tholi Prema, Rang De, Mr Majnu), he’s largely sincere in his bid to rediscover himself as a storyteller with Sir. He uses the broad strokes, cliches to his advantage and despite the dullness of the post-intermission portions, he doesn’t tinker with the soul of the story.
From the ten-headed Ravana to Lord Narasimha and the motifs of other Gods in critical situations in the film, there’s wonderful use of mythical symbols to establish the significance of education in the student’s lives. Sir touches upon relevant issues like caste, poverty and gives it a unique twist with the staging. The film’s climactic suggestion about ‘paying it forward’ is practical and lends a humanistic touch to the lead character. The underdog Balu scores a moral victory even while letting his arch-rival Tripathi take centrestage.
The performances are understandably restrained. Samyuktha’s assured portrayal of Meenakshi starts off well, though her identity in the story dilutes over time and is ultimately reduced as Balu’s romantic interest. Dhanush’s casting is a major win for Sir, you believe in its middleclass-ness because of his underplayed screen presence. He’s charming as the diehard romantic, an effective crowd-pleaser as the teacher and means when he decides to flex his muscles.
Samuthirakani’s near-robotic performance of a cardboard negative character doesn’t make an impact. Sai Kumar would’ve been a better fit for the part, though he’s still believable as the power-hungry village head. The Hyper Aadhi comedy track is lively though the crassness is still evident in parts. Motta Rajendran makes his presence felt in a brief role while the regulars Tanikella Bharani, Narra Srinu, Thotapalli Madhu, Aadukalam Naren do what’s expected of them.
The extensive bunch of teenagers cast as students come up with spirited, agile performances. G V Prakash’s songs add lustre and flavour to the ambience; Banjara is certainly the pick of the lot. His measured, nuanced background score too fits the needs of the story. Cinematographer Yuvraj’s efforts to infuse the 90s flavour into the frames with good support from the production designer Avinash Kolla is the icing on the cake.
Dhanush is a perfect fit for a film that leads the charge against the corporates on viewing ‘education’ as a business and not making it affordable to all. Venky Atluri’s message-driven tale doesn’t tell anything out of the box, but goes about the proceedings with earnestness and sprinkles the narrative with a handful of commercial liberties. Sir is a simple story told well.