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‘Beyond the Clouds’: The Majidi Magic Gets Lost in Translation

Ishaan Khatter debuts with a very impressive performance. 

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Indian Cinema
4 min read
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For cinema lovers across the world, Majid Majidi is synonymous with the power and poetry of storytelling. The auteur, who came into prominence in the ’90s with the second New Wave of Iranian cinema, is adept at weaving on screen seemingly simple tales, which have the power to touch and rock you with their understated depth.

But when he declared he was making a film in and on India, and especially after the trailer of Beyond the Clouds released, some of us were left with a feeling of disquiet. Might this be another Slumdog Millionaire, we wondered?

I must confess, the film has left me with mixed feelings.

Beyond the Clouds, which is almost entirely in Hindi by the way, revolves around Amir (a very impressive debut by Ishaan Khatter) and Tara (Malavika Mohanan), siblings who are hit by hard times. They battle their individual demons even as they race to survive the lower, often criminal, echelons of Maximum City.

The plot seems engaging enough. But does the film work? Has Majid Majidi been able to create his signature magic in this ambitious Indian project?

Well, yes and no.

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The Highs

The good bits first.

Kudos to Majidi for not making yet another Slumdog Millionaire. He captures the chaotic essence of Mumbai as an assault on one’s senses, but not a la slum tourism. While the central characters are certainly from an economically deprived background, in no way are they or their poverty exoticised as in the American film. Neither are they covered in shit nor are their homes filthy ghettos. Majidi’s camera rushes through slums yes, but also a lot of other parts of Mumbai, some of which might not be usually seen in our films - who thought the Thane creek with its flocks of flamingos could be so cinematic?

Ishaan Khatter debuts with a very impressive performance. 
Majid Majidi with Ishaan Khatter on the sets of Beyond the Clouds.
(Photo courtesy: Facebook)
What’s interesting is also how Ishaan’s Amir is almost symbolic of Mumbai. Restless, charming, ambitious, devious and yet not completely heartless - Amir embodies the spirit of the city as a teenager who dreams of making it big, but gets caught in a web of crime, compassion and deception.

But it is with the characters Asha and Tanisha, the two children, that Majidi manages to create some of his signature magic. Innocence as the gateway to deep truths as well as horrors is indubitably his forte, and it is these children’s entry post interval that infuses the film with some real emotional warmth.

Ishaan Khatter debuts with a very impressive performance. 
A still from Beyond the Clouds.
(Photo courtesy: Zee Studios)

The support cast too has some formidable talent, though one imagines most of them signed up for an opportunity to work with the Iranian master. Filmmaker-actor Gautam Ghose, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Heeba Shah, Sharada are indeed names to reckon with, and they deliver.

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The Deal-Breakers

And that brings us to what doesn’t quite work for Beyond the Clouds.

It is a missing Majidi.

You keep waiting and waiting for the director’s signature magic, but barring a few scenes here and there in the 120-minute long film, it just doesn’t come.

A key reason is one casting gone horribly wrong - that of Malavika Mohanan. Her performance leaves much, much to be desired, and being one of the core characters, her ineptitude drags the film down. Malavika’s Tara, who slides from one misfortune to another, is strained at best and one simply fails to connect with her or her travails.
Ishaan Khatter debuts with a very impressive performance. 
Malavika Mohanan as Tara in the film. 
(Photo courtesy: Zee Studios)

The plot too has some glaring loopholes, which does nothing to make the characters feel real. What did Tara expect an 11/ 12-year-old to do to help her abusive marriage? Why does Amir never try to find out how much the bail would cost or use the money he earned to get one? There’s nothing to establish Amir and Tara’s strong emotional bond either. One is left wondering if they are siblings by birth or circumstance, if there is really any reason for them to reach out to each other except for the fact that they are siblings. And even when they reach out, it’s nothing more than perfunctory.

The audience is essentially left grappling with two almost independent story threads whose very core lie in their assumed connectedness.

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What also niggles is the predictability of the plot. I don’t know if it’s our aggravated cynicism or indeed the film’s treatment, but the familiar trope in Majidi’s cinema of good winning over the evil in one’s heart also comes across as jaded in the film. We never really believe that a character would succumb to temptations, hence there’s no reassurance when the danger is overcome.

It’s painful to say this for a Majid Majidi fan, but Beyond the Clouds is not a film I would put on the reco list. I do not doubt the love that went into it, but I can’t help but feel that much was lost in translation. I am still waiting for the Majidi who makes me cry and laugh in wonder in the blink of an eye.

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