Cast: Richa Chaddha, Sanjay Mishra, Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathi
Direction: Neeraj Ghaywan
Production: Anurag Kashyap
Review: Corpses are burning on a ghat in Varanasi and the men attending the pyres take lathis and hit on the skulls of the burning corpses while asking each other to ensure that the bodies burn properly. We get to see this twice in Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan that hits theatres on Friday. The film, which was honoured with a five-minute standing ovation and won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival, stars Richa Chadda, Vicky Kaushal, Shweta Tripathi and Sanjay Mishra in lead roles.
Set against the visually powerful backdrop of funeral pyres and the burning ghats in Varanasi, Masaan is a poetic narrative of pathos and love. The film takes on the tragedy of life, death and loss. It traces two different stories — one is about Devi’s (Richa Chaddha) fight with morality and the other one is the love story of Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) and Shalu (Shweta Tripathi).
Chaddha is seen watching porn on her computer as Masaan opens. She then leaves her house, changes into a saree in a Sulabh shauchalaya — the public toilet — on her way and rents a cheap hotel room with her friend Piyush (Saurabh Chaudhary). The duo is interrupted by cops who barge into the room and the sequence lands Devi and her father Vidyadhar Pathak (Sanjay Mishra) as the targets of a blackmailing cop.
A parallel love story between Shalu and Deepak offers romantic relief to the otherwise tense story of Devi. Deepak belongs to a family of doms — people who help burn corpses on the ghats — while Shalu is an upper caste girl, protected from the harsh realities of life that Deepak encounters everyday.
One of the many beautiful aspects of Masaan is that none of the characters give up. They are caught up in the social and moral confines but are ready to take them on within their own litte spheres and ways. Devi, despite her small-town upbringing, struggles with the social morales, weaves vulnerability, rebelliousness and strength together. Both Devi and Deepak have their personal losses and tragedies to deal with but they put up a strong fight, bring closure to their griefs and move ahead in life.
Varun Grover has written a tight screenplay that leaves no space for loopholes or stretched moments throughout the 109-minutes of the movie. His dialogues touch an emotional chord and bring out small-town world where the story is set.
One of the philosophies that Masaan dwells upon is that death is just one of the many events that one encounters and it is not the end of the world. The film also takes up the subjest of love in its philosophical narrative. Varun Grover’s lyrics talks about innocent love that is honest and true to the beloved. Shalu tells Deepak, “Tum Nida Fazli ki ghazlon ki tarah ho.” The movie can also be branded the same – innocent and honest.
Neeraj Ghaywan has portrayed the sexual encounters in the film with a novelty that is far more true to life than most Bollywood films put together. When Devi meets Piyush in the hotel room, the awkwardness of a couple indulging in their first sexual encounter is close to reality. The scene where Shalu and Deepak kiss too portrays emotions in a subtle way that is sure to win hearts.
Masaan exposes the dichotomy that conservative and rebellious attitude exist in the same space. The characters of the film have all been brought with social and religious values/beliefs but they want to break the shackles of the society to make space for love, humanity and individual identities.
The film also takes on the caste and gender divide that continues haunt our society. From “ghar ki ijjat” being a girl’s responsibility to the tragedy of doms who are called ‘dom raja’ despite leading an impoverished life because of the discrimination they face in the society; Masaan portrays it all with honesty.
Masaan end abruptly halts the philosophical and lyrical journey that Grover and Ghaywan have woven throughout the film. Suddenly, it seems the filmmaker isn’t sure whether he wants the milleu or the stories as pivotal point for the narrative. Apart from the last minutes, however, one cannot complain about the film.
Chaddha, Mishra and Kaushal have all melded into their characters effortlesly. Chaddha, who has earlier proved her prowess with films like Gangs of Wasseypur and Fukrey, beautifully portrays the strong-headed Devi who is a free soul caught in the social confines of a small-town. And her character aptly brings it out when she says in one of the scenes,”Choti jagah, choti soch.” But she does not hesitate in fighting against the narrow mindedness of the small town and has her own ways to explore and experiment with things. One of the scenes where Kaushal stands out is when he reveals to Shalu that he is a dom. In a very playful mood, Shalu teases him asking where lives and he blurts out, “Harishchandra ghat pe rehte hain. Lash jalana pesha hai humara aur humare parivaar ka.” The pain of centuries of discrimination against his caste comes out in his eyes and cuts through the heart.
Mishra is an actor who can take any scene to new levels with his prowess and he does it again in Masaan. Be it questioning his daughter’s acts or begging with the blackmailing cop, he nails the scenes effortlessly.
Masaan is a hard-hitting narrative set against the powerful backdrop that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatres. It is and beautiful cinematic experience you don’t want to miss.