Gone are the days when people used to flock to cinemas on hearing about a "Salman Khan will remove his shirt" scene. Gone are the days where you have a 100 people pop out of nowhere and join the actors in an impromptu dance. Gone are the days when a shower of petals across the screen would imply that people are making out. Well, at least, they should be gone. 2015 is turning out to be a breathtaking year for Hindi Cinema. First we had "Margarita, with a Straw", which, simply put, broke all stereotypes. And now we have Masaan, which makes Margarita look small. We have had a few amazingly touching and intense films in regional Indian cinema, with the likes of Ray, Kasaravalli, et al, but this is a whole new territory in Hindi Cinema. Masaan is devastatingly beautiful. Where do I even start? In the small North Indian town of Varanasi, the lives of a few ordinary people intertwine in two tales of love and loss. Right from the opening scene, we are thrown right into the tragic lives of these people, with an intensity hitherto unseen in Indian cinema, almost Scorsese like. It is so intense, that an air of discomfort fills the theater just 5 minutes from the opening. And that of unjust. Unjust, as we are forced to see the catastrophic consequences of corruption, greed, caste-ism, and people's attitudes towards sexuality. This is no pretty film. There are no scenes of comic relief. It gets into your head real quick, and you are all but mute spectators to their spiraling lives. You feel chained to your seats as you're unable to do anything for them. Now that's the power of good cinema. The acting is almost perfect. Richa Chadda, as Devi, the bold woman caught up in sexual crime and corruption, is the star of the show. She pulls off the small town girl next door role with elegance and beauty, which only increases with her fearlessness as the film progresses. All the other actors, though not as good, are extremely believable in their respective casts. The direction is impeccable, with every small shot, be it romance or crime, captured with equal ferocity. But where the film truly stands out is in its cinematography. Avinash Arun Dhaware does in incredible job in capturing the holy city of Benaras in both its highs and lows. He sure is an expert in glorifying tragedy. The shots of the cremation at the ghats, the boat rides at night, and the train on the bridge are so hauntingly beautiful that they would remain etched on to my memory for quite some time. Masaan is a film that exposes you to the kinds of lives people elsewhere live, and gives you an opportunity to evaluate yours. It makes you ponder over issues, though a tad exaggerated, that people in certain parts of our country surely still face. It might also teach you a thing or two on love, loss and moving on. Although I haven't seen a lot of Hindi cinema, this might just about be the best that I have. Unfortunately, most people would still prefer a topless Salman Khan than a gem like this.
Along India's Ganges River, four people face prejudice, a strict moral code and a punishing caste system as they confront personal tragedies.
October 28, 2020