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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Masaan: A Celebration of Life & Death and Everything in Between

“Mann Kasturi re, Jag dasturi re,
 Baat hui na puri re…”

Masaan, the Cannes winner is a poignant tale of life in small town India. And it breaks my heart to say that not very many Indians are appreciative of it. While I stand in the queue to get my ticket, I see the flock heading towards Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Baahubali. But I remind myself of Richa Chadda’s words, one of the actresses in the film – “…the more people will see these movies, the more it will help someone like Neeraj to find funding for a Masaan 2.” Masaan tugs at your heart; it is both a tale of heartbreak and hope.

Masaan is set in modern day Varanasi, following two distinct story arcs, only to converge in the end. The film opens with Devi (Richa Chadda), as she prepares to leave her house. She travels a short distance, only to change her attire from salwaar kameez to a saree; we notice the hesitancy and uncertainty in her eyes. And then we see why. She meets up with her boyfriend, Piyush, and they go to a hotel. It becomes abundantly clear to the audience now, that under the guise of being a married couple, the two get ready for their first sexual counter, which is full of shyness and awkwardness. But things take a turn for the worse when they are caught by the police in the act. Thus begins the bitter tale of moral policing by the law keepers, and blackmail. They are more than willing to take advantage of the public sense of disgrace and shame that surrounds premarital sex. Devi’s father, played brilliantly by Sanjay Mishra who is a retired Sanskrit professor is called to the police station. He gets his daughter back if he pays the bail money; he will get his daughter back with her reputation untarnished if he agrees to pay an addition 3 lakhs, over the course of three months to the police.
Elsewhere, Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), a Dom (one who cremates corpses) meets Shaalu (Shweta Tripathy) and falls in love with her. Their romance blooms over Facebook chats, red balloons let lose in the sky, quiet dates at restaurants and sneaky bike rides. But underneath the innocence of first love, lies the ugly reality of caste. Deepak and Shaalu belong to two different castes; even in the 21st century it plays a very big role in the lives of all Indians.

The protagonists in both the story arcs represent the young generation who refuse to be constricted by the social barriers. They are independent, strong, defiant, and surprisingly brave for the world they belong to. Devi has no qualms of admitting to the police that she was in the room to quench her curiosity about sex; she shouts out at her father “Koi kandh main e nehin machaii!!” (I haven’t done anything wrong) And in the same way Shaalu reassures Deepak, when she gets to know of his heritage that they will run away from home to be together, if the need arises.

Masaan is uncluttered and it takes the audience back to remembering what it is like to be in love for the very first time. Debutants Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathy is a spontaneous couple; their romance is a snapshot of minimalism, candour and clumsiness that only a small town romance can capture. Richa Chadda as Devi is strangely a very subdued character from her previous characters in Gangs of Wasseypur and Fukrey. But there was a sense of monotony in her acting throughout the movie; one expects a little more guts. Her emotions at times felt too controlled and stoic. However it is the silence between the father-daughter that speak volumes.

It is symbolic that the characters from the two arcs cross path at the Sangam (the confluence of the three rivers in Allahabad). Masaan is a brilliant directorial debut by Neeraj Ghaywan; it is poetic and is concerned with loss as much it is with love. Through Avinash Arun, the cinematographer we are shown what a charm Varanasi is. Several crucial moments spin around the Ganga, and is beautifully shot. They linger in our memory like the flames dying slowly in the cremation grounds where so much of Masaan unwinds.

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