A deep tale about surpassing guilt and loss

Published - July 25, 2015 06:24 pm IST



It would only be fair to call Banaras the lead protagonist of director Neeraj Ghaywan’s debut film Masaan. It’s a film set so firmly in the city that we feel the Ganga flowing beneath our feet, transporting us to this historical city on the cusp of change. If India’s metros represent tomorrow, and the villages yesterday, it’s in places such as Banaras that we find tales about ‘today’.

Masaan is the story of a retired Sanskrit teacher Vidyadhar Pathak (Sanjay Mishra) whose daughter Devi (Richa Chadda), a computer trainer, comes home after getting busted from a sexual encounter with a friend in a shady hotel room. Her friend commits suicide right after and the police threaten to file a case of abetment against her only to extort money from her father who values honour more than money.

Devi is a woman who watches porn to understand sex. Before renting a room for her first sexual liaison, she goes to a sulabh sauchalay (paid toilet) to change from salwar kameez to a saree only so she can pass off as a married woman. Naturally, of all the curiosity Internet has kindled, is it surprising that it kindles sexual curiosity too, even among women? Should a woman today feel guilty about her desires? These are some poignant questions the film raises.

It is also the story of Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), a civil engineering student hailing from the Dom community (the traditional caretakers of Varanasi’s cremation grounds), who has begun to take a liking to Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi), an upper caste girl. The film begins with students approaching Vidyadhar to learn the history behind the various ghats of the city. As he begins to explain, he asks a student why he’s recording the conversation. “Likhne mein kuch choot jate hain (some things go missing when written),” the student replies. Like history, he exclaims. It is a Banaras where technology has begun to take over traditions.

It is here that Deepak finds Shaalu’s Facebook profile upon developing a crush on her. Unlike the society they live in, social media is devoid of caste and other cultural barriers. Shaalu too, whose idea of boundless love comes from the poetry of Ghibran and Ghalib, sees no caste. So when she discovers he’s from a lower caste, she advises him to study hard to find a good job, which potentially could lead to equality. If her parents oppose even then, she says she’s willing to elope. The youth may be above caste, but they’re not oblivious to its existence.

The film is most beautiful when it becomes a tale of dealing with loss. Deepak, who prides himself in the mental maturity he gained from seeing several corpses, realises true maturity isn’t just dealing with any corpse, but that of a loved one. As for Devi, it’s about ridding herself of her guilt over her friend’s death rather than the separation the death caused. So when Ganga unifies the two by offering them solace at Triveni Sangam (the confluence of three rivers in Allahabad), away from the constricting Banaras, it is a sort of coming-of-age for them. After all, born and raised in Banaras, they are not ones who believe in the act of burying (even the past). For them, closure comes only after the burning… once the ashes begin to flow in the Ganga.


Genre: Drama

Director: Neeraj Ghaywan

Cast: Richa Chadda, Sanjay Mishra, Vicky Kaushal, Shweta Tripathi

Storyline: A daughter driven by guilt and a wounded lover, hope to find closure in the city of salvation

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