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The darkest spots are often beneath the flame. Varanasi, Benaras or Kashi- the religious capital of India, the oldest living city of world, the home to Shiva might draw people from all over the world with the lure of nirvana, of witnessing a living museum of the times as old as the Ganga and as new as the latest McDonalds menu blending together, but when left alone, it often burns along with the funeral pyre on its ghats every day, in hope of resurrection, in hopes of setting itself free. The only problem being those shackles often are an inseparable part of its identity.
Masaan as a movie transports you to the insides of a city, which is known as the gateway to moksha and ironically becomes a cage for itself. The movie might be based in Varanasi on the banks of the Holy Ganga, but the context extends easily to the majority of our society. However, staying true to its setting, the movie not only does justice, but includes the holy city and river as an inseparable part of the story so that they emerge as the most important characters of the story. A city with religion as the major source of income and least opportunities for those chasing their dreams in a non-spiritual world, a city with most number of tourists from across the globe but itself still battling with the old definitions of morality defined by the societies that existed on these very riversides, a city with a sprawling growth of educational institutions but preparing the young minds so that they have no option but to fly away from the city to achieve their dreams, a city which might beam at the dream and ‘plans’ of a metro train but is yet to experience a road devoid of craters- there is no dearth of ironies here. The movie explores in such a set-up, the minds of its residents, 5 of them who struggle to break the shackles, fight with others and themselves to question the definitions of right and wrong. And when, as an audience, you find asking those questions to yourself, it is an example of immense power of cinema, and that’s where Masaan soars.
It is a city where romance might still be done in hushed tones, hearts exchanged on pretense of stationery and a young couple engaging in consensual sex in a closed hotel room might be the cause of scandal- but that does not mean the aspirations and dreams are limited and caged like the moralities. Just that the manifestations are different. When Devi Pathak decides to explore her sexuality with her friend from the coaching institute, in all her sensibilities and righteousness she (and hopefully, the audience) is convinced that she is doing no wrong. When Deepak falls in love (the loves story being one of the most subtle and beautiful in recent times) with Shaloo who is from a caste deemed ‘higher’ in the social order of archaic times (but very much present day as well), he somewhere has a flicker of hope, ignited by the education he had that the girl herself won’t give in to such beliefs, a hope which is very well lived, as a symbol of the changing winds of the society. When the old man trying to make money for his and his daughter’s honour succumbs to the need and lets the kid dive in the river for money, the conflict in his heart is palpable, and you can’t decide what is right.
This could have been a film much less than what it is, if not for the metaphors dispersed throughout in the context of the city and river. Despite being about death, loss and mourning the film never looks at the city in a negative tone, but only in a redemptive and caressing look. The camera doesn’t focus on the touristy and airbrushed visuals, but portrays the city in all its glory and shame, leading to a touch of reality never before seen on celluloid. The performances are brilliant, but the one who really stands out is Vicky Kaushal in the role of Deepak. The scene where is breaks down with his friends haunts you for hours after the movie. The authenticity of the dialogues, milieu, locations and accent is perfect and acts as a powerful support to a heart wrenching story. The soundtrack by Indian Ocean deserves special mention. It blends in the movie and gets lost in lanes of the city filling it with the feeling of poise. The camera makes love to the city of Benaras like never before. The ghats, temples, funeral pyres, durga pooja, local markets, restaurants – all come alive in a way cinema has never seen. But the real hero is of course the writer and director, who have managed to pull this haunting tale in a way it’s hard to stop thinking about it for long.
Take a bow!