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Masaan: Mapping the moral morass

Masaan: Mapping the moral morass
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Genre: Drama

Director: Neeraj Ghaywan

Cast: Richa Chadda, Vicky Kaushal, Shweta Tripathi, Sanjay Mishra, Pankaj Tripathi, Nikhil Sahni

A lyrical indie that wipes off the miasma of morality and caste system in a city on the cusp of change, Masaan is an engaging testament of the times we live in. Times when mobile phones and Internet have democratised aspirations but the taboos of 19th Century continue to haunt us, times when education is opening new vistas but the baggage of stifling tradition continues to haunt youngsters hoping to migrate to a more equal world.

And what better setting to set the game between tradition and modernity than Benaras, the city where many seek salvation, director Neeraj Ghaywan shows the nuts and bolts of it in a graveyard where you have to hit the skull of a burning dead body to help it migrate to the other world. It is a cycle after all. Using crematorium as a metaphor, he underlines that death or disappointment is just a glitch in design. Unpretentious and uplifting, its unaffected tone is baffling at times.

In times when our cinematic narratives are getting increasingly derivative, the biggest triumph of Neeraj and writer and Varun Grover is that they have been able to generate tangible characters in a real world. There is constant enquiry, there is constant brooding but no boredom that we tend to associate with the indulgent, festival fare.

Primarily, there are three strands capturing the prevailing dissension in small town India. Computer teacher Devi (Richa Chadda) is out to satiate her curiosity about sex. Her desire is evocatively compared with that of the man who jumped into the enclosure of a white tiger. Things go haywire and Devi might lose the value of her name in the neighbourhood. Does she care? Not quite.

Then there is Vidyadhar (Sanjay Mishra), Devi’s father, a Sanskrit teacher who undergoes a moral decay when a corrupt policeman asks for bribe to salvage his daughter’s dignity. His relationship with little Jhonta (Nikhil Sahni), who dives into the Ganges for a gamble, provides the much-needed levity to the narrative.

Meanwhile, Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), a boy from Dom community falls in love with a Gupta girl (Shweta Tripathi) and hopes to bridge the caste divide through his civil engineer tag. He seems to believe that he has seen it all in the graveyard where he grew up, but when he has to deal with personal loss, death suddenly becomes a big deal.

Be it Devi’s brush with Internet porn or the digital ticketing system in the railways or for that matter the classless Facebook romance, Varun has smartly shown how communication tools are rendering the social divide pointless but at the same time new issues are coming forth. Are they turning us into a voyeur?

The writing reminds of an organic literary tradition which lost its way in Hindi cinema when emotions also became a cut and paste job. A usual scene makes an important observation on the current generation. When a group of students seek information on Benaras from Vidyadhar, the teacher is surprised by the fact that the students are recording the conversation. The student says guruji likhne mein kuch chhoot jata hai (something gets left out).

It has both humour and physical intimacy but unlike most indies it doesn’t flaunt metaphors to seek the eyeballs. It celebrates small joys like the value of kheer and what it means to be the youngest in the family. And yes, it doesn’t blink when it comes to the crunch.

Devi is sad but not overcome by guilt. Her conversations with her father open a fresh window on father-daughter relationship and generation gap. An important takeaway is the way Devi makes an effort that somebody else doesn’t fall into the curiosity trap like she did.

Avinash Arun’s immersive cinematography captures Benaras without the touristy halo. It plays an important role in highlighting the glaring divide between the physical and digital infrastructure in the city. Editor Nitin Baid has ensured that the three strands work in harmony. Indian Ocean’s music add to the layers and Varun’s lyrics, inspired by Dushyant Kumar and Chakbast, are incisive. “Tu Rail Si Guzarti Hai, Main Kisi Pul Sa Thartharta Hun” captures the pragmatism of romance between a Dom boy and a Gupta girl.

Richa Chadda blends the grief and inherent confidence of Devi with amazing assuredness. Sanjay Mishra shows yet another face of father in the mofussil India. Pankaj Tripathi gets an opportunity for image change hand he laps it up. But the find of the film is Vicky Kaushal. As the Dom boy in love he effortlessly conveys both the inferiority complex and the attitude of breaking through the caste cauldron.

Go, feel the simmer!

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