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World famous in Maharashtra

Rinku Rajguru's overnight stardom and the wild success of the Marathi film 'Sairat'

A still from ‘Sairat’.
A still from ‘Sairat’.

It has been 10 months since Sairat released. It is the highest-grossing Marathi movie ever, earning over Rs100 crore, but its wider impact has eclipsed its theatre run. Many have gone to the theatres for repeat viewings; in Satara district, and some other areas of rural Maharashtra, shows as late as 3am were introduced to meet the overwhelming demand.

The film had its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. One of its songs, Zingaat, is the biggest viral sensation since Kolaveri Di. The film inspired a bunch of young professionals to form the Sairat Marriage Group, which offers free shelter, legal help and employment opportunities to couples who marry against their parents’ wishes. Sairat, which means “totally wild" in Marathi, is the doomed love story of Archi, the rich, upper-caste daughter of a powerful local politician, and Parshya, a lower-caste fisherman’s son. A Bollywood remake by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions is under way, and the Kannada remake has been shot.

Nothing, however, reflects the magnitude of the film’s success as much as the dramatic, overnight stardom of its lead actor, Rinku Rajguru. Since Sairat’s release, she has been to school only once. That day, her classmates at the Jijamata Kanya Prashala hoisted her on their shoulders to celebrate. Children from neighbouring schools poured in, slipping under the gates and climbing over them. When the teachers tried to stop them, some of them apparently offered to pay a bribe of Rs10.

“My teacher had to tell me not to come to school from the next day," Rajguru says over the phone from her home in Akluj, a town in Solapur district. She recently finished shooting for the Kannada version of Sairat, where she reprises her role. At home, she can barely walk free. She can’t go to the hall, as there are always people gathered outside the house hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Once, during a visit to Pune, when she wanted to go out with friends to have pani puri, she wore a burqa to hide her identity. But someone recognized her just by looking at her eyes. “I pretended I didn’t know what he is talking about. And that I have never heard of Sairat. But he knew who I was and we had to leave the place," she says. She hasn’t had pani puri since.

Rajguru has grown up watching movies in which the heroine’s function is to be “rescued by the hero when she is being harassed by goons". Her Archi is radically different. In one telling moment, when Parshya gets beaten up, Archi comes to his rescue. In a scene earlier in the film, she arrives in college riding a Royal Enfield, in a royal-blue salwar kameez and aviators, accompanied by electric guitar riffs. And in the classroom, the shamelessness with which she looks at him makes him blush. In a sense, Archi, not Parshya, is the “hero" of Sairat.

“I’ve always preferred unconventional-looking heroes," says Manjule. “The young protagonist in my first film, Fandry, was a dark Dalit boy who didn’t fit the idea of a typical leading man. In cinema, a hero who’s not fair and doesn’t have a well-built body is still acceptable, but the female lead is always expected to be fair, thin and conventionally pretty. I wanted to reverse that in Sairat." The film-maker was so particular about the character’s appearance that he made Rajguru, to her dismay, put on weight before they started shooting. In order to look a few years older, and therefore heavier and taller, she lifted weights for three months.

It took a year to finalize the casting of Archi. All the other casting, including that of the male lead Akash Thosar, followed; this was done three months before the shooting. Manjule was holding auditions in Akluj when Rajguru, accompanied by her mother, came by. The director is from the same village as Rajguru’s mother; Rajguru says she went there out of curiosity. As with many such instances in film history, the director knew his lead the moment he saw her. “In your head, you have a pratima (image) of the character. She came very close to that. Later, when I saw the way she spoke and behaved, I became surer about her," says Manjule.

Working on Sairat has been liberating for Rajguru. In her village, women are still asked to wear dupattas a certain way, and cannot look at boys or drive a car. But she says she could identify with the character’s directness and confidence. It seems that the idea that there are no Archis in rural India in reality is precisely why the character struck such a chord with people.

Rajguru is unusually young for a movie-star; she was 14 when the film was shot. Despite all the attention and fame, she says she has her feet on the ground. Her family (her parents are teachers in a local school) still uses the same car and Scooty. She doesn’t have a phone yet; if you want to contact her, you have to call her father.

What keeps her rooted is perhaps that acting happened by accident. She will act in films in future but her life doesn’t revolve around it. At present, she is preparing for her class X exams, taking breaks to watch Discovery Channel or playing with her younger cousin. She still dreams of becoming a doctor.

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