Film: Masaan (English Title: Fly Away Solo)
Cast: Richa Chadda, Vicky Kaushal
Director: Neeraj Ghaywan
Rating: * * * ½
Anurag Kashyap’s former assistant, Neeraj Ghaywan scores big with this Indo-French production, his very first independent directorial venture, that sent the International film festival regulars atwitter.
Masaan is basically about people struggling to overcome stifling societal pressures, and regain hope despite fate’s devastating dips. Set in present day Banares, the narrative follows two seemingly separate story arcs that eventually find convergence at the Triveni Sangam, Allahabad.
The film opens with Devi (Richa Chadda) working on a computer and then rushing off for a tryst with her friend Piyush, a fellow colleague. Enroute to their destination- a hotel which lets out rooms on an hourly basis, she makes use of a public toilet to change into a saree. Once at the hotel room, they embrace and quickly shed their clothes for some stolen moments of togetherness. But the local cops barge into their very private moment and triggers off an avalanche of hurt and deep despair.
While Piyush succumbs to his attempted suicide, Devi is left to face the storm alone, yet defiant. Her hapless father, Vidyadhar Pathak (Sanjay Mishra), a former Sanskrit professor who now looks after one of the sites along the Ganges, called “ghats,” where offerings are made following cremation, is devastated by his daughter’s slip into immorality and also shell-shocked by the extortion demand from the cop who issues threats of severe reprisal through social media. Intertwined within that story thread is the half-baked addition of young Jhonta (Nikhil Sahni), a boy assisting Vidyadhar at the ghat and willing to do anything to get in hie Guru’s good graces.
Running parallel to Devi’s story is Deepak (Vicky Kaushal)’s story. He belongs to the ‘Dom’ caste which engages in burning bodies on funeral pyres as a ‘means’ of living. Deepak has higher aspirations of becoming an engineer and lifting his family out of their marginalized existence. Just when his dreams are set to be fulfilled, he falls in love with Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi) who belongs to the upper-caste Gupta clan. While caste is a problem that could hamper their future together, it’s ultimately fate that plays decisive and cuts short their promising romance. A devastated Deepak loses his way into liquor and despondency before he wakes up to the call of his dreams.
Devi moves to Allahabad, away from the frustrations and humiliations of small-town life while Deepak finds a job that gives him a jump-start towards his ambitions. And they both en-up in the same place, the Triveni Sangam, and at the same time – to let go off the agonies of the past.
While the overall experience is one with strong evocation and symbolism , there’s not much dramatic heft to the narration. The script starts off on a weak note, having two consenting computer literate adults play victim to an obvious extortionist set-up. Fear of authority is a handy tool no doubt but logic and believability must also be equal beneficiaries and that is not to be found here. Then the coincidence of Deepak having to tend to his lover’s body- a trifle far-fetched that was too. But despite these intransigencies Ghaywan manages to ensnare with a steady rhythm, brutal economy and vivid imagery. The visuals give credence to the closed-in entrapment of small-town life while Indian Ocean’s musical serenade adds earthy pathos to the engagement. The tech credits are also first-rate. Some of the juxtaposed visuals are simply outstanding. The lensing was deliberately subjective in nature and that’s saying a lot about the skill and mastery of the cinematographer, Avinash Arun Dhaware. Vicky kaushal , Shweta Tripathi and Nikhil Sahni deserve unstinting praise for their life like performances. Richa Chadda, Pankaj Tripathi and Sanjay Mishra are equal to the task of living down their mainstream images. While ‘Masaan’ has no doubt deservedly won praise as a first feature of a director with great promise it’s also true that the film does not live-up completely to it’s true potential. It’s disappointing that Neeraj Ghaywan was unable to flesh out this promising story into something heart-felt and unforgettable.