One always has high expectations from a film which scores big at film festivals. It also helps in bringing a small budgeted indie film come to the limelight and reaching out to a wider audience as and when it releases in theatres. Neeraj Ghaywan’s directorial debut ‘Masaan’ generated some interest among the filmgoers after it won two awards at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. As the trailer and the promotional material was unleashed in the domestic market, one’s interest piqued and one hoped this film would quench the discerning audience’s thirst for good Hindi cinema.
Devi (Richa Chaddha) is caught in a compromising position with her boyfriend Piyush (Saurabh Chaudhary) in a hotel room by the police. Even though they are two adults having consensual sex, the police arrests them. Devi and her father Vidyadhar Pathak (Sanjay Mishra) are blackmailed by Inspector Mishra (Bhagwan Tiwari). The corrupt officer asks them to cough up a large amount of money. If they fail to do so, he would do everything to ensure that everybody gets to know about this incident. Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) is a young engineering student who belongs to the Dom community, a marginalised caste in Varanasi, the members of which serve as cremators. Vicky, with the help of his professional degree, hopes to break free of this world. He falls in love with Shalu Gupta (Shweta Tripathi), a girl from an upper caste who has had a privileged upbringing. Shalu is a poetry connoisseur and her life is far removed from the murky world that Vicky comes from.
The film is set in Varanasi (or Benaras) and depicts the tragedy that befalls on its protagonists in a city plagued with orthodox ideologies. The film touches upon various issues and does justice to each of them. Whether it is a sexually repressed woman who is impeached for having consensual sex with a man or a young man trying to escape from the clutches of casteism, you identify with the characters even though you have never been in any of these situations yourself. While Devi’s chapter gives you a glimpse of the way women are suppressed in small town India, Deepak and Shalu’s track throws light on the discrimination that exist in our country based on caste, race and religion. There is a scene in which Devi tells Pathak that she did no wrong and states that people in small towns have a very narrow world view. We cannot help but nod our head in agreement. The way Deepak and Shalu’s romance begins, one feels it would adhere to a similar theme and would show the issues faced by two people who are in love with each other and belong to two different communities. The film touches upon that issue but only briefly and offers a twist that one would not have guessed. The twist, in fact, adds another layer to the narrative. While it could disappoint the people expecting their track to go the predictable route and show the two lovers fighting it out with their families and the society for their love, the discerning viewers would agree that it adds a certain depth to the proceedings and has a subtext which makes one needs to ponder on.
Richa Chadda brings out the vulnerability and resilience of Devi effectively and does not strike a false note in her performance. Sanjay Mishra shows the helplessness of a man watched over by a conservative society as well as he portrays the concern of a doting father. Debutantes Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathi’s share wonderful chemistry and deliver heart-warming performances. Both of them make their respective characters come alive by getting the UP accent right and imbibing the various traits one associate with people from small towns. Watch out for Vicky in a scene in which he breakdowns with grief. Shweta does not get as much screen time as the other lead players and one would have loved to see more of her. Bhagwan Tiwari plays a despising cop with effortless ease. Nikhil Sahni as Jhonta brings a smile on your face. Pankaj Tripathi is very good in a brief role.
Neeraj Ghaywan chooses a difficult subject to make his directorial debut with and manages to pull it off convincingly. The milieu seems very real and the sense of realism is something he maintains throughout the film. A very important event takes place a few minutes after the film has begun and he maintains the brisk pace throughout the film’s duration. Varun Grover’s weaves several issues, wonderfully strikes a balance between two different tracks and comes with a triumphant screenplay. He gives every actor the appropriate dialogues to mouth, which helps in brings out their persona. Avinash Arun captures Varanasi beautifully. Each and every frame of the film looks stunning. The songs (Indian Ocean) compliment the film very well. You cannot help but smile throughout ‘Tu Kisi Rail Si’ which depicts Shalu and Deepak’s romance and you get goose bumps when ‘Mann Kasturi’ plays at a crucial juncture in the film. The background score (Bruno Cuolais) is appropriately dramatic. The costumes (Shruti Kapoor) lend authenticity to the characters. The editing (Nitin Baid) is top notch.
Masaan marks one of the best debuts made by a director in Hindi cinema. The kind of command and dexterity Neeraj Ghaywan displays over his craft in his very first film is incredible. His eye for detailing and delving into the nuances is evident in this film. This film is a cinematic gem that is not to be missed.