Director Jude Anthany Joseph’s latest film, Sara’S, released on Amazon Prime Video on Monday, follows her trademark storytelling style – telling the story from a woman’s perspective. Since Sara’S revolves around a woman’s right to have an abortion, there is no other way to tell this story. This is Sara’s decision and so we can experience this film through her eyes. If you are wondering why there is an apostrophe and an s after her name, this is the director’s way of giving it agency and emphasizing that it is the woman’s decision.
Sara (Anna Ben) is fortunate to have a happy family who support her at all times except when it comes to her marriage. Screenwriter Benny P Nayarambalam, the real father of actress Anna Ben, also plays his on-screen father in the film. He wants to be the “cool dad” who sustains his daughter’s dream of becoming a filmmaker, but gives her 6 months to find a suitable boy for the wedding. After six months, he says, he will be forced to choose a boy for her. Maybe he’s worried that his daughter is already 25 and her prospects in the marriage market are limited. So much was for his progressive vision.
The character of Benny is just one of the male characters in the film who believe they give the women enough freedom in their lives. Like the producer who announces that he is “not sexist” but does not want Sara to take care of such a big film project. “You’re a girl, you’re going to find it very difficult,” he said.
Sara’S is populated by a number of “progressive, non-sexist” men. Popular film actress Anjali left the cinema to fulfill her duties as a wife and mother. She seems to find happiness in her daily chores around the house and chooses small moments with her family over an offer that can earn her a national prize. Or at least that’s what she said to herself.
She is reluctant to accept a meaty role in Sara’s movie, which would be perfect for her comeback. “I had already allowed him to do some television commercials or to become a judge in reality TV shows,” says Anjali’s husband, full of rights. He conveniently seems to forget that Anjali has his own free will.
Screenwriter Akshay Hareesh seamlessly navigates Sara’s story through the cesspool of blatant misogyny and that occasional kind of sexism. When men help women pursue their dreams, it always comes with a set of conditions. In the event of a stalemate, it’s up to the men to decide what is best for the women. The ironies of this film need no explanation.
As much as this film is the story of Sara, it is also the story of her husband Jeevan (Sunny Wayne). When Sara accidentally becomes pregnant, she treats Jeevan with contempt. Jeevan, who never wanted to be a father, has now mellowed and wants to keep the baby. It’s not an easy decision for Jeevan and it’s meant to be an emotional roller coaster for him. But, the film barely makes an effort to convey Jeevan’s thoughts and feelings to us.
The film’s half-baked commentary on the realities of mainstream Malayalam film business is another disappointment. The film wastes time repeating the obvious and well-known facts to appear bold and conscious.
The major downside to Sara’s is that every character in this movie is pleasing to a flaw. The conservative framework, the outdated belief that women don’t need a life outside the family, and Sara’s hard-line supporters of the family, who believe in traditional women’s roles, fail to create dramatic tension in the storytelling.
Sara’S works like an educational film. This could spark a conversation in conservative homes on topics presented as beyond discussion. Like a pregnancy, it is God’s will, and humans, especially women, have no say. But, artistically, that seems insufficient.