By Karthik Nair
It is more than obvious after over a decade that Wake Up Sid (2009) is not only the story of a spoilt brat, or a woman trying to be independent, or a love story between the two; it is the story of Bombay. Every Mumbaikar has, in a way, lived parts of the film. But, what makes this tale of a rich boy and an aspiring woman from SoBo (South Bombay), so relatable to even the rickshaw-dependable people up north? What makes one go “yes, that’s home”?
For Sid, the home was initially his room. Yes, just his room in that bungalow full of rooms. That was where he could be himself, which was where he got his privacy and could stay away from his mum’s pampering or dad’s bickering—essentially the expectations that came with being Siddharth Mehra –he was Sid! The room with clothes strewn across it and posters is a visual that may seem annoying to the viewers but honestly, quite a few of us would have been there at some point.
What is so “Bombay” about this you might ask? Sid’s second home might make it more obvious – college! For Mumbai’s students, college isn’t just the institution or even the campus. It is the experience. One might be in Marine Drive, having a prolonged lunch but it’s still college, right? Whether you are in Juhu gulping down on golas or in Candies’ looking at what’s cheapest in the menu – if it is during lecture hours, you’re still in college.
While the film starts with the last day of college, the themes of friendship and absence are still alluded to. The “Farewell Party” and other disorganised events that nobody cares about and attends unwillingly is also something that sparks a sense of realism in the movie.
For Aisha, home was beyond the hostel –a place with her rules, the door which will read her name: a self-made woman in the making –a rather typical Bombay trope!
The feeling of “Bombay” is felt even more in the home Aisha and Siddharth share, the small matchbox flat that the film makes us fall in love with. It is not only the house but also the characters that make it so relatable. Just before we are introduced to the flat we see the neighbours Sonia and Mrs. Bapat. The “Mere bacche se baat mat karna” (don’t talk to my child) dialogue is a staple. Moreover, the “negative influence” stereotype for women who wear Western “revealing” clothes and live alone is also a hard truth that the city faces and portrays the typical mindset of “issko idhar society mein rehne kaise diya?”(How did the Society allow them to stay here?). Yet, surprisingly, in this home where Sonia is judged for her clothes, she does assume the mother-like figure beyond a point, when she teaches Sid how to make eggs!
Mrs Bapat makes an appearance later in the film to ask Sid to take photos of her son. This is a very positive way of portraying jugaad. It is synonymous with the times in the 90s and noughties when mothers would dress up their kids and take them to the photo studio which acted more as an escape for the mothers from all the housework they were burdened with. The way Mrs Bapat was very keen and the child wanted nothing to do with it really hit the right spots, especially today when all the early noughties kids who have grown up are hit with pure nostalgia. Both Mrs Bapat and Sonia assume roles of the mother he left in his mansion—these mothers though, push him to find himself and be a little more independent. The family dynamics then do adhere to an idealistic society, yet that of how does the child grow to adulthood –frames moments of when he grows up, and gifts it away! Thus, in both the women, a sense of family is developed.
The Anglo-Indian landlord is also very typical of the spirit of Bombay. She is the epitome of a Mumbaikar. She is rude and unforgiving when you meet them on the street. But, kind and friendly when you make an attempt to know them or just have the regular Mumbai gossip of the heat or traffic with.
However, possibly the most cliché yet “Bombay” aspect of Wake Up Sid is the rain. While the seaside may not be regularly visited by Mumbaikars especially up north, the rains are something that hits the city the same way. If you have a Mumbaikar friend who hasn’t looked up at the sky and said “Bombay ki baarish” (Bombay’s rains) with glistening eyes, then you should question whether he really is from Mumbai.
Most outsiders would not understand what’s so great about the city’s rains, considering the streets are full of filth, the traffic is unbearable and the trains altogether give up. But for the people of Mumbai it is sheer escapism. It is escape from the scorching heat for starters. Moreover, it is when the city is the most silent. The heavy rains just mute the incessant honking and loud residents. People at home speak like they have achieved Nirvana. And there ideally shouldn’t be a resident who hasn’t told his mum to cook up some Maggi or pakodas with adrak waali chai (ginger tea) while they sat at home and called it a holiday as trains were not running.
The rains and the seaside was Aisha and Sid’s special home. It was a place where they could be free and peaceful. It was a place where they could both recognise their Mumbaikar. Sid had experienced it, but for the first time, he was the independent Mumbaikar too, just like Aisha now. Their love for each other really came together in the rain and any Mumbaikar would know that it is the monsoon which seals love in the city.
Wake Up Sid, started off like a cliché “spoilt brat who learns to live independently” film that Bollywood doesn’t have any less of. But, introducing Bombay as a third character and including so many elements of what defines the city really made it a cult classic which will stand the test of time.
All photo credits: Wake Up Sid, Dharma Productions (2009). Fair Dealing