Rating: 3 Stars
Masaan meaning crematorium had its French hangover precede its arrival. Director Neeraj Ghaywan should get the credit for choosing to tell a simple tale about believable characters in an authentic setting. The film follows a life-like natural pace and characters are static and subtle in the portrayal of their emotions. Unfortunately, the film fails to connect and convince completely.
However, the trend is that any deviation from conventional Bollywood is touted to be fine cinema. Any film that portrays the frayed edges of small town India becomes a truly representative and revered entity. Any director who has done the rounds of foreign film festivals is flagged as the next Fellini of Bollywood. The critics and film community is eager to sell him as the industry’s next poster boy, the king of contemporary Indian cinema. We need to stop let our biases dictate our appreciation of cinema. Although Masaan is a well-made film, hailing it as an aesthetic masterpiece would be a self-imposed folly. And here’s why.
With movies like Anaand Rai’s Tanu Weds Manu (2011), Himanshu Sharma’s Ranjhaana (2013) Boney Kapoor’s Tevar (2015), Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), small town India has since long been in the mainstream. In fact, the ripples of aspiration and ambition that stir the two protagonists in Massan Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) and Devi (Richa Chadda) were captured even in as early as Shaad Ali’s Bunty Aur Babli (2005). So the final exit out of the small contours of Kashi in Masaan does not seem new or engaging. In fact, it seems like a logical journey for youth in modern day India. The separation from the father, independent living, break from family business no longer shine as glorious examples to emulate or empathize with. They seem the but-obvious transition.
Even the underlying theme in the trajectory of Devi’s MMS scandal seems antiquated with the memory of Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex Aur Dhoka (2010) or even the modern reincarnation of Paro in Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D (2009). It’s not a compulsion to invent a new theme with every film but if breaking out of their small towns in the end is the pivotal point in your plot and the sole beacon of hope, the filmmaker is giving a short rope for the audience to hang their emotions on.
So while the plot has the right ingredients of external conflict in the form of the death of a loved one, threat from the local police and society’s stigma; these short trajectories of personal tragedies do not influence the final outcome of the plot. Deepak was determined to get a job after graduating in civil engineering and Devi had pre-determined to pursue further education in Allahabad. The abetment of suicide case and Shaalu’s (Shweta Tripathi) absence do not form the causes for their goals and choices in life.
Capturing the lives of the lower caste engaged in the disposal of corpses and the hope of life and dreams emerging out that space, is touching but does not sustain for the length an entire movie. While Chadda and Sanjay Mishra (As Vidyadhar Pathak) infuse authenticity into their characters, the romantic scenes between Shaalu and Deepak are well played out. The Facebook flirting in Hindi and the symbolic red balloon at the Durga pooja carnival are sweet moments.
The romantic song fusing the metaphor of the train and the bridge is beautiful and so its use to express Deepak’s angst by the bonfire while he mourns besides his friends. But the ingenious moments like these are doused by the repetitive use of the nazm. The last scene with its obvious metaphor of the boat, the travelers, the poetic Sangam is sweet yet sour for it just seems like an old ploy in a new setting.
In conclusion, Masaan remains a movie the sum of whose parts does not add up to a convincing, powerful whole.