The Neeraj Ghaywan film which was the official selection in the Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival this year, opens at theatres today.
If I were to sum up the experience of watching this movie in one line, I would say that it is a small film with a big heart, a true gem that must not be lost in the hordes of films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Baahubali. Read on for the full review...
What's it about
For someone who has never been to Benaras, the mention of the city's name surfaces images of grandiose aartis being conducted at picturesque ghats. Or that of free-wheeling foreigners enjoying chillum with the 'jataadhaari babas' of the pious city. Neeraj Ghaywan takes you to a Benaras that has been glossed over by all these romanticized representations in popular culture. Masaan's Benaras is beautiful, filthy, suffocating, liberating all at once. It takes more than a dip in the holy Ganges to survive here. Coming to the story of Masaan, Varun Grover crafts a stirring narrative with modern characters caged in a small town that is still governed by archaic traditions. The story begins with Devi (played movingly by Richa Chadda) watching a pornographic video on her computer. The camera follows her as she packs her bag eagerly, expecting to meet someone special. We are taken with Devi to a public toilet where she changes into a saree in order to look more like a married woman. She is then escorted by a young lad (her boyfriend) to a hotel room where the two (by now it is obvious what they are here for) hesitantly kiss . Devi, with childish excitement says "Thoda ajeeb sa laga na?" and soon after the couple just sink into each other. But things soon take a bitter turn as police raids their room and accuses them of a sex scandal. The flustered boy locks himself in the bathroom and seeing no way out of this mess, commits suicide, thus leaving Devi behind to be the sole subject to massive social stigma. The police officer seeing this as an opportunity to extort Devi's family, calls her father Vidyadhar Pathak (played by Sanjay Mishra) and demands three lakh rupees in three months. He threatens to defame Devi socially if his demands are not met with. Devi's is not the only story in the film. Another story brews parallel to Devi's, that of Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), a member of the Dom community. His community is tasked with cremating the dead. Deepak wants out of this job and studies civil engineering, which his father supports. While playing wingman to one of his friends, Deepak meets Shaalu Gupta (Shweta Tripathi), a higher caste girl and begins to grow fond of her. A ridiculously adorable sequence of events like Deepak sending her a friend request on Facebook, to Shaalu reciting Dushyant Kumar's poetry for him on the phone, and Deepak taking her out on a date and shyly asking, "Ab toh hum friend ho gaye hain na?" to the two later kissing each other for the first time ensue... Deepak and Shaalu's romance blossoms. But life isn't hunky dory for them as after Shaalu's petulant persistence Deepak tells her that he and his family burn corpses for a living. While Deepak thinks that his "caste" would deter Shaalu from marrying him, the latter innocently says "Bhaag ke jaana hoga toh bhaag bhi lenge" So how do Devi and Deepak's worlds collide in Masaan? We won't reveal that... Go watch the film right away!
When a film as good as Masaan comes to you (it doesn't happens too often), it is hard for your critical faculties to detach from the beauty of the film or stop marvelling at it for even a second to give an unbiased opinion on the film. But it is worth giving a try. Masaan's screenplay comes from Varun Grover who ironically also moonlights a stand-up comedian. Yes, a stand-up comedian has crafted one of the most poignant stories told on the big screen this year. Grover has also taken threads of inspiration from his favourite Hindi authors like Dushyant Kumar, Brij Narayan Chakbast and Akbar Allahabadi to pen soulful lyrics for the film. He truly is a master of many trades. Bollywood better value this fantastic writer! Masaan's director Neeraj Ghaywan masterfully helms his debut, never pandering to the familiar Bollywood tropes and only picking shreds of reality to make a hauntingly emotional film. Masaan's story is not the only thing that is heart-breakingly liberating, each and every performance in the film deserves a standing ovation, and yes I mean the newcomers Vicky Kaushal, Nikhil Sahni, Shweta Tripathi and the supporting cast of Pankaj Tripathi, Vineet Kumar etc too. Richa performs with a vulnerable quality and yet she is one of the strongest female characters I have seen in a Bollywood movie. She isn't playing a character, she morphs into Devi and that is her greatest victory as an actress. She is bridled by the shackles of "log kya lahenge" but she defiantly breaks free. Sanjay Mishra delivers more in his pauses and silences than in his dialogues. You feel this father's pain and you are angered when he is exploited for his daughter's "sins" Vicky Kaushal's sensitive portrayal of a "lower caste" lad who wants to disassociate from his lineage deserves the Best Newcomer Award this year. He is a revelation and I am looking forward to seeing him portray more affecting characters on screen. Shweta Tripathi's character Shaalu is the only striking colour in the otherwise dull palette of the film and we loved her spunky and naive performance. The crisp length of the movie works in favour of the film's quality. The minimal soundtrack makes Masaan all the more engaging as there are no distractions to stop you from diving into the plot. Masaan is not your regular Bollywood movie, it is not even your regular off-beat cinema. It is an experience like never before.
Nothing. There is not a single flaw I could find in the entire film.
Do not miss this gem at any cost.
Rating : 5 out of 5
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