Masaan is produced by Drishyam Films (among others), the same banner that has produced my unreleased film X. So if there’s any bias, you will see it in the post.
Director: Neeraj Ghaywan
Cast: Richa Chaddha, Sanjay Mishra, Vicky Kaushal, Shweta Tripathi, Pankaj Tripathi, Nikhil Sahni
Rating: Liked it*
The most important thing you need to do before watching Masaan is to forget all about the Cannes hype and reports of standing ovation it has received at screenings. Leave all baggage behind.
Films are best watched with an open mind and Masaan requires a clear one because there’s a lot to take in.
Neeraj Ghaywan’s debut begins quite explosively with one of the most disturbing and best-executed prologues we’ve seen this year. While that might set the tone for a dark film, Masaan surprises with its bursts of light-heartedness in the midst of a rather morbid environment captured so vividly by cinematographer Avinash Arun.
Benares – a town people consider a gateway to salvation is actually just a graveyard on the banks of a river (that’s used as a metaphor for life itself). You win some, you lose some here. But the river, and life itself, has its way of bringing about a balance. Masaan’s greatest triumph is that it gets that balance of the sweet and the sour right, even if some of the stories are more interesting than the others.
The greatest difference between the Cannes cut and the theatrical cut is that this one feels tighter (Edited by Nitin Baid) because the makers have decided to give us more of the stronger two stories, cut down one and have done away with the weakest of the four.
Hence, an issue-centric film that seemed interested in the context of migration from small towns to big cities (what I tweeted after watching the Cannes cut) has now become a character-centric film that’s interested in how events of personal tragedy affect each other in a small town at the cusp of change.
After all, people care about people more than they care for issues. And it’s easier to manage two parallel stories with the third as a sub-plot than have four parallel narratives. You cannot hold ambition against a debutant filmmaker and the fact that Neeraj has shown great maturity (and rare objectivity) in embracing the film he made than holding on tight to the film he had on paper is assuring indeed.
If you have seen his two brilliant short films – Shor and Epiphany, you know Neeraj’s strengths lie in exploring dissonance in modern day relationships with a sense of realism and in Masaan, he crafts a wonderfully tender love story (Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathy are adorable here) under the backdrop of the still prevalent caste system.
Equally riveting is the intense character study of a girl dealing with loss. Richa Chaddha plays it with great restraint and her strained relationship with her father (played by the ever reliable Sanjay Mishra) is another example of Neeraj’s competence in handling complex dysfunctional relationships. Pankaj Tripathy appears in a very nicely written role and it’s a character I would have liked to know more about while the little boy Nikhil Sahni’s story seems cut short in the larger interest of flow.
While Masaan sets up conflict very dramatically, the pay-offs of its twin-narratives are devoid of drama. There’s an assured understated-ness to the second half of the film (though I didn’t notice this at Cannes, the Interval here does make the change in treatment quite obvious) and it would be interesting to see how the mainstream audience would react to this quietness and brooding.
Writers Neeraj Ghaywan and Varun Grover have dared to script a lyrical narrative that questions karma but offers poetic justice. They might have not been able to do everything they wanted but they’ve got a lot of things right in a space that’s not been explored too often. The music, for instance. Masaan might have only three songs (by Indian Ocean) but it has the best use of music (extra points for the clever use of Gazab Ka Hai Din) and is certainly among the best albums this year.
Watch Masaan not for the hype but for the hope it leaves us with. A filmmaker with a lot of promise has arrived on the scene.
(P.S: My rating scale goes from: Loved it. Liked it. Liked it but. Didn’t like it. Hated it.)