Saturday, August 01, 2015

Masaan: Some Scattered Thoughts

I used to be a regular reader of PFC, the now defunct digital Mecca for budding Indian cinephiles. I am not very sure about what it morphed into and how it ended but for a few years in between, I checked it more often than Gmail and Facebook (well it was Orkut!). For the first time in my life I had seen so many like minded people in one (virtual) place. Neeraj Ghaywan used to be one of the contributors in PFC (And so was Varun Grover). His posts used to be long, detailed and insightful. The one I remember clearly was the one on Kusturica's Underground. I had already seen Dolly Bell by then but yet I had not seriously explored the Serbian. After that post I watched everything by the Serbian within a few days. 

So, although I do not personally know Ghaywan but I always thought he should make a film someday. That film has indeed been made now and I have finally managed to watch it too. I was also glad to see the near houseful theater in Delhi on a Thursday afternoon. I was actually wondering if it will ever get a normal release.

Coming to Masaan, unlike its funerary name, lightens up the mood of any film lover, not through its content but through its craft. As everyone must be knowing by now, it tells nearly disconnected stories of two sets of people. On one hand we have a victim of moral policing and her father. On the other hand we have a young couple from polar opposite social as well as economic strata. At the start, it proceeds like a dream for those who loved Slumdog. Every unfortunate (but genuine) Indian stereotype is covered in the first 15 mins or so, from horny youth getting punished for doing the obvious to people stuck in unpleasant occupations defined by their bloodlines, from orphaned child laborers to corrupt cops and at a broader level, from squalid towns to polluted rivers. There is hope too, in the form of youth planning to break away from the life handed to them by the society. 

However, as the film proceeds, we see the larger point, the continuous flow of life just like that of the river on the banks of which it unfolds. It feels no need to sermonize or criticize anyone including the vilest. But this objectivity is expected from a film such as this. What is more important is that it is not even interested in any kind of resolution or even closure. In fact the characters have mostly been denied any satisfactory closure and the little bit of coincidence towards the end, although a bit forced, delighted me due to a faint glimmer of hope for a couple of characters, just like the ending of Talk to Her did. The fact that I felt so for those characters, is a testament of the films effectiveness as far as I am concerned. 

Masaan is another addition to growing the list of "small town" films that are thankfully replacing Bombay (and New York and Paris) nowadays. Interestingly, I think a lot of such films are actually based non-Lutyen's Delhi. This tells something about Delhi. Unlike Mumbai, it has still retained that hinterland feel apart from certain upmarket localities. That is why Aankhon Dekhi worked the same way as Masaan while Dhobi Ghat always felt a bit alien to me. 

While the writing takes care of minute, slice of life details of small town existence, perfect casting and non-exploitative cinematography keeps the film running smoothly. While all the leads were excellent, I was delighted by many small cameos such as that of Pankaj Tripathi. Use of poetry lifts up certain dramatic moments but I felt the songs were not as stirring as they should have been, considering Indian Oceans past works. Anyways, Masaan made me resurrect this long deceased blog and write about films after ages. Let's see which other film makes me do so again.

No comments: