Saturday, July 25, 2015

Masaan Movie Review

Masaan takes us to the India that is sitting at the cusp of modernity. It is about the people of this India… who have realized a new change is coming in with which their dreams and aspirations are attached. But it is essentially about the questions that the masses miss to introspect or reflect upon while being gushed away by this wave of change: What does it take to let the new change come in? Or what will this new change take away from us? How will we adapt to it or will it just suck us in? How accidental could this be?

I've already made Masaan sound like a politically cynical, depressingly dark and pretentiously philosophical film. After all, its title refers to the ground where dead bodies are cremated. And in other filmmaker's hand, it could just be that. But, refreshingly, it is exactly opposite… insightfully positive, brightly hopeful and subtly poetic. It is about looking forward to the salvation and liberation that the souls of the dead would attain rather than the cumulative grief that is generally seen at first look after cremation.

The idea of the film is cemented in the progressivism with which the writer duo (Ghaywan-Grover) looks at its central characters. Devi (Richa Chaddha), an ambitious daughter of a retired Sanskrit professor, is not apologetic after being caught in bed with her college friend; Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), though traditionally belongs to the untouchable Dom community that does the entire rituals at the Hindu crematory ground, is observed like any other young engineering student beyond the caste hierarchies. Yet there are subtle caste-dynamics traditionalism at display: like, when asked his name for Devi's bail, Vidyadhar puts his last name first- Pathak- asserting that he is a revered Brahmin even though he is at the receiving end of a corrupt police officer then; or in the scene when one gentleman- who must be there to cremate a relative of his- is chatting with a Dom 'raja', he is let to peek into the deeper hierarchies within the community.

These characters are drawn out of a set of people… who are exposed to the modern revolution: Engineering, the most looked up to course in our country, is seeing admissions from students of all socioeconomic strata like Deepak; Devi too is a computer proficient, she wishes to be a trainer at a coaching class and has secured an ad-hoc job in Railways for her computer skills. But they aren’t spared of Technology’s double-edged sword. While Deepak is making his moves for his first love of life on Facebook, Devi is living under the threat that her MMS could be uploaded on YouTube any time.

Interestingly, both suffer from similar accidental setbacks. Devi’s first sexual encounter in a shady hotel goes awfully wrong, which sets the prologue of the film. For Devi, it is now about how she struggles to escape the clutches of this accident and its consequences.Jitni chhoti jagah, utni chhoti soch (Translation: Smaller the place, shallower the thoughts)”, she says. Though we know more about Devi’s life and her family—her father, her father’s relationship with the kid on the ghat, the film’s premise is closer to Deepak’s story. He is the one, after all, who works at a masaan (crematorium). And for someone like him whose day begins with seeing dead-bodies and hitting at their skulls, it’s even tougher to see the pyre of his beloved burning. It’s tragic. (In a less skillfully written script, this sudden shock post-interval would have come across as manipulative; here it is the much needed conflict for the theme to rise.) And if Masaan were one of those depressing romance, we would have seen Deepak drown in this tragedy. He tries to, until one lyrical scene where he lets himself backfloat in the Ganga with Man Kasturi Re playing in the background. For the kind of optimistic film it is, he segues back into his career-oriented ambitious life. It’s for both of them to move on and realize that death is just a part of life.

Given the kind of realism we witness in this film that lives and breathes in the alleys of this city surrounded by people speaking the local dialect, we continue to meet characters and not just “people”. Their character traits are neatly delineated. In the mind of a filmmaker with distant observant nature, a character like Sadhya Ji (effectively played by Pankaj Tripathi) would have never born. It is probably for the same reason that the urban tourist characters in a scene look like cardboard cutouts because they don’t belong here where the film is based- Banaras. Also, when the policeman, who is threatening Devi’s father for extortion, starts appearing as a sticky figure, he is joined in with a plump little girl, matching his health, calling him Papa. The policeman adjusts his face from a threatening expression to a smile, Vidyadhar (Devi’s father, curiously played by Sanjay Mishra) is befuddled, and the scene snaps. And in this matter of seconds, the policeman becomes a character, a story in his own.

The film moves with such rapt scenes. Each scene exists on screen with a purpose and only till its purpose is served—not a second less, not a second more. It gives us the sense in our head that a lot is happening despite that there are only two simple plots and their connecting subplot to follow. It gives us the sense of the inequilibrium that has been ensued in the characters’ lives. (This film is made on Nitin Baid's edit table as much as it is made during its writing process.) And this quick succession of scene-to-scene is contrasted with the long, almost still closing shot of the film where the two characters, whose stories were flowing like rivers itself, meet at Sangam, going into the sunset. The colors in this frame (photographed by Avinash Arun of Killa) are as simmering as the pyres on the ghat. The equilibrium of life is, finally, seemed to have been restored.

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