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Movie Review: ‘Masaan’ is Rare Brilliance! 

Masaan is riding high on not just success but also high expectations. The Quint thinks it’s worth 4 out of 5 stars! 

Updated
Entertainment
4 min read
Richa Chadha in a scene from <i>Masaan</i>

Masaan is finally here.  And in case the name rings a bell… well that’s because somewhere between Katrina Kaif’s red carpet sojourn and Sonam Kapoor’s fashion frenzy, it thankfully put the focus back where it should have been all along – on Indian Films doing us proud at the revered Cannes Film Festival. Set in Varanasi, Neeraj Ghaywan’s debut project was awarded the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) award.

The film and it’s director also won the ‘Most Promising Newcomer Award’ in the Un Certain Regard section at the festival. Add to this, a 5 min standing ovation along with some rave reviews internationally, and Masaan is riding high on not just success but also high expectations. So is it worth the hype you ask? Most certainly, I say!

Richa Chadha in a scene from <i>Masaan</i>
Richa Chadha in a scene from Masaan

On the banks of Ganga, marinated in the lovely earthy tones of Indian Oceans’s music is Banaras –the place where people go to die. There are shots of funeral pyres burning bright against the dark night sky. Hindu mythology looks upon death as the beginning of another journey that the soul undertakes to cross over. Death is in many ways redemptive, just as crying for the dead is cathartic. And it is this philosophy that lingers on in the landscape of Masaan. It is as much about dying and loss and funeral pyres and ashes, as it is about the living, their hopes, their inner phoenix and its desire to take flight. The film opens with Devi Pathak, and her eager longing gaze, as we follow her through the serpentine ‘Varanasi ki galiyan’, while she joins her boyfriend in a shady hotel room. Tragedy strikes soon after in the form of a police raid. She is doomed to live, to bear the repercussions and resultant blackmails.

On a parallel track we meet Deepak who is smitten by a bright eyed poetry loving Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi). From sending a friend request on Facebook to stolen glances, blushing shy advances to a bold kiss, poetry and the first flush of innocent love – the scenes that showcase the budding romance between these two are the most endearing bits in the movie.

Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathi in a scene from <i>Masaan</i>
Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathi in a scene from Masaan

The brilliance lies in its writing. Neeraj Ghaywan and Varun Grover weave together a scintillating tale, taking in its fold myriad issues – caste politics, corruption, women and their shackles nicely camouflaged in hypocritical morality. But in its own clever way the narrative forges ahead, charting a new course as it breaks every set norm; un settles the status quo and creates ripples in still waters. The pre-occupation with death is constant but instead of being morbid it’s meditative.

Stuck in a rut, mourning her loss, belittled by society but defiant in her outlook - Richa Chadha brilliantly captures the soul of Devi. She is stoic in her grief, vulnerable in her loneliness, resilient enough to help her father clear his debt and unapologetic in her choices. Vicky Kaushal as Deepak is charming. Negotiating his big dreams with his reality of a lower class Dom community pyre burner, Kaushal endears himself to us. But it’s Sanjay Mishra, who as Devi’s forlorn father steals the show. It’s a delight to see him effortlessly portray the dilemma of his character – his tearing love for his only daughter and fear of society. While most of the dialogues are in Hindi, a special Kashika dialect that is spoken by people living near the ghat, has also been interwoven to render realism to the story. The overall effect is scintillating, much of which is also thanks to the brilliant cinematography of Avinash Arun Dhaware.

Vicky Kaushal in a scene from <i>Masaan</i>
Vicky Kaushal in a scene from Masaan

In Hindi the word Masaan literally means ‘a crematorium’. Symbolically it suggests that the past must be left behind to undertake the journey into the future. This spirit and the accompanying hope also reflects in the English title of the film ‘Fly Away Solo’. It’s one of those rare films that hasn’t traded its soul to gain entry into one of the many hundred Crore clubs. A film therefore we must see and support with all our heart. I’ll go with 4 OUT OF 5.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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