If you are a movie buff then it’s highly unlikely that you’ve not heard of Neeraj Ghaywan and his debut film Masaan which has released today, after all the film has been in the news right from the very beginning. Be it for winning the 2014 Sundance Institute/Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award or much later for making it as an official entry to Cannes this year under the Un Certain Regard section where it even won a couple of awards, Masaan or (Fly Away Solo as it was called earlier) has been making the right kind of moves everywhere, not everything by design of course. It isn’t often that a filmmaker manages to make his debut with all these aspects. Added to it is the fact that the film has an impressive cast and crew and is supported by producers who make things matter. So eventually it won’t be surprising when you hear people interested in knowing if Masaan deserved all this and if Neeraj Ghaywan has made a convincing debut, after all its to do with human nature.
Having said that it’s also only fair to try and look at Masaan without too much of baggage attached, you might actually enjoy the process a lot better. First things first, how often do we have Hindi films moving out of the comfort zone of cities like Mumbai and Delhi and focusing on a tale completely set in the Hindi heartland? Yes we did have an odd Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, earlier this year, but again they were exceptions and not the norm. Added to it is the aspect of basing the film in a place like Banaras, a city with a rich cultural heritage, making the city as a character as well, but staying away from the angle of showing the film in the way it is usually depicted in films. Also consider the kind of research that has gone into the making of the film, resulting in the kind of detailing that has gone into the characters, the surroundings they belong to, the kind of look and feel projected, the language that the characters speak and you realize when you watch the film that there’s something right about the film for sure.
Masaan begins literally with a bang, it has one of the most explosive opening segments seen in Indian cinema in recent times. Devi (Richa Chadda) clandestinely meets up with her boyfriend and they indulge in passionate sex in a hotel room. But to their bad luck they are taken unawares by the sudden entry of Police force who seem to be on a moral policing drive. Devi’s boyfriend attempts to end his life, petrified at the thought of getting involved in a scandal. On the other hand the cop leading the raid, Inspector Mishra (Bhagwan Tiwari) tells Devi that her life is doomed. With a disturbing start like this we go on to see that Devi lives with her father Vidyadhar Pathak (Sanjay Mishra), who was earlier into teaching and who now runs a small shop selling puja paraphernalia on a ghat. Inspector Mishra demands that Vidyadhar should pay up a hefty sum in order to ensure that Devi’s hotel room incident is hushed up. While all this happens we also come across Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) a civil engineering diploma student, belonging to the Dom community with his family traditionally being in the field of burning dead bodies on funeral pyres at the ghat. Deepak comes across Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi), a college student from the upper caste, Gupta community and they fall in love. Amidst all this we also have Jhonta (Nikhil Sahni)a smart kid who works along with Vidyadhar, whom he reveres as well as taunts in his own characteristic manner.
The film has characters that are as real as they could be; there is a certain degree of credibility and authenticity that everyone brings into the film, even someone portraying a minor character. The writing by Varun Grover is indeed impressive, the dialogues adding the required flavour to the situations woven into the plot, but they are simple yet impressive. Take for example the scene when Deepak and Shalu are enjoying a quiet moment on her birthday and he impulsively kisses her. Sensing the awkward silence he adds to her earlier dialogue by saying “tum sabse choti ho na,isliye tum pe pyar aa gaya”, which does the trick as Shaalu warms up to him. Or consider the scene where Sadhya Ji (Pankaj Tripathi) tells Devi there are 28 trains which stop here, but also 68 trains which do not stop, “matlab yahaan aana aasan hai,par yahaan se jaana mushkil hai”, these are simple lines but quite impactful as well.
Avinash Arun’s cinematography works well for the film, bringing out a wonderful contrast between the happy moments seen during the Durga Puja as well as the dark and heavy moments like when Deepak realizes he has lost something very dear to him. Mukesh Chhabra’s casting choices work extremely well in favour of the film, look at Pankaj Tripathi who as Sadhyaji has just a few scenes in the film but ends up making them lively and leaving a solid impact, just like the kheer made by his dad 🙂 . Vinit Kumar as the head of the Chaudhary family and Deepak’s father is good, though it would have been great if the slightly uneasy equation between him and his elder soon was a little explored in the film as well. Nikhil Sahni as Jhonta is wonderful and the scenes where he interacts with Vidyadhar are a treat to watch. They share a special equation; initially Vidyadhar doesn’t want Jhonta to participate in the diving competitions where a lot of betting happens, but later circumstanes force Vidyadhar to coax Jhonta to dive as it appears to be a source of additional income. And this whole aspect comes to a closure in a manner which strikes you emotionally.
Bhagwan Tiwari does look authentic as the corrupt cop on the prowl, there’s this quick little moment when we realize that perhaps a softer side of his exists that we don’t know, when he see him interacting with his daughter. Sanjay Mishra continues to impress us, watching him play Vidyadhar you really wonder how come he was typecast as the funny guy for ages. The scenes where he confronts Devi and the exchanges that follow are likely to leave a long impression on us, very impactful indeed. Richa Chadda plays Devi with a lot of confidence; this is a character which is quite in contrast to what she has been doing so far. While here she doesn’t remain loud and outspoken like so many of her earlier characters, as Devi she is still someone who is quite confident and honest in her thoughts and communication. So she doesn’t feel bad in admitting she tried to have sex out of curiosity, she even feels sure that she never did anything wrong in the first place. Shweta Tripathi plays Shaalu with a lot of warmth, there is so much about Shaalu that she gets to portray that it is nearly impossible not to like her. Vicky Kaushal makes a remarkable debut with Masaan, he brings out the portrayal of Deepak with a lot of sincerity. Be it in the computer centre where he innocently takes a printout of Shaalu’s Facebook page or in the romantic scenes with Shaalu or during his drunk and emotional outburst with his friends, he enacts them with panache, encouraging signs indeed.
The songs by Indian Ocean feature only at the right moments and both “Tu Kisi Rail Se” and “Mann Kasturi Re” are soulful, catching our attention easily. The only area where one can probably feel something amiss with the rhythm is when the culmination of a couple of angles in the second half looks a little too sudden considering the flow. Like the dead bodies burning on the funeral pyre, there is always a culmination to everything including life so we need to carry on, no matter what is something that the film tries to tell us subtly. Eventually this is certainly a dream debut for Neeraj Ghaywan, Masaan is a film with a lot of heart and it shows. Do yourself a favour and go watch Masaan.
Disclosure: MAM is an official online promotional partner of Masaan.