Few minutes into watching the movie, I was tricked. Rarely had I seen a film with such subtlety in expressing love between two characters. Where only a few steeling glances, awkward smiles and two red balloons, flying up in the air, made my eyes moist and heart soar.
And then, it shook me. Rarely had I seen a tragedy unfold in a way which toppled me and made me struggle to gather the crumbled pieces of my heart. My eyes were moist again, heart sunk a little bit and the balloons burst.
Neeraj Ghaywan’s Cannes award winning debut feature Masaan runs like life. It soars, it sinks, it glides, it pauses. But more importantly, it surprises.
I had watched Ghaywan’s short film ‘Epiphany’ just last year. About a couple who fight while travelling together. There was a sense in setting even in the 20-minute short. Ghaywan focused on telling us, where the characters were coming from, where they are now and where they are heading. And it is this emphasis on the setting which reveals about the characters more than just their locations. It justifies what they do. And don’t.
Masaan—a story about a low caste boy who falls in love with an upper caste girl; a young independent daughter who gets embroiled in a sex encounter which goes terribly wrong; a father with fading morality; and a child yearning for a family— is wonderfully set in Banaras. So before Devi (Richa Chadda in a spirited performance) checks into a hotel to make love with her partner, she quietly watches porn on her computer and hides her face with a duppatta.
Masaan (shot gorgeously by Avinash Arun, with Indian Oceans’ music and Vraun Grovers soothing lyrics), brims with deftly handled moments. Two of my favourites being when Deepak lights a stick with a pyre which interjects with a shot of flames on kitchen gas. Deepak works on the ghats of the Ganga as he belongs to the untouchable Dom caste who burn dead bodies. It is their livelihood. Someone recognises Devi’s face and she walks away from there. Cut to, a shot of her watching a TV game show where you get cash prize for recognising the face of the celebrity… While she has to bribe for hiding hers.
Masaan talks about rebellion, love, loss, small towns, smaller mindsets, big heart and bigger dreams. Every character deals with a tragedy, and is weighed down by social, emotional, stigma. And every character wants to let it go and fly. Even though, alone.
It is a moving film, one which talks about death yet evokes life.
Remember the two balloons, flying up in the air? Now look carefully. They are going up, lifting above crowds, mindsets, caste, corruption, tragedies and boundaries, but are actually, just flying solo.