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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Masaan: A Celebration of Life & Death and Everything in Between

“Mann Kasturi re, Jag dasturi re,
 Baat hui na puri re…”

Masaan, the Cannes winner is a poignant tale of life in small town India. And it breaks my heart to say that not very many Indians are appreciative of it. While I stand in the queue to get my ticket, I see the flock heading towards Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Baahubali. But I remind myself of Richa Chadda’s words, one of the actresses in the film – “…the more people will see these movies, the more it will help someone like Neeraj to find funding for a Masaan 2.” Masaan tugs at your heart; it is both a tale of heartbreak and hope.

Masaan is set in modern day Varanasi, following two distinct story arcs, only to converge in the end. The film opens with Devi (Richa Chadda), as she prepares to leave her house. She travels a short distance, only to change her attire from salwaar kameez to a saree; we notice the hesitancy and uncertainty in her eyes. And then we see why. She meets up with her boyfriend, Piyush, and they go to a hotel. It becomes abundantly clear to the audience now, that under the guise of being a married couple, the two get ready for their first sexual counter, which is full of shyness and awkwardness. But things take a turn for the worse when they are caught by the police in the act. Thus begins the bitter tale of moral policing by the law keepers, and blackmail. They are more than willing to take advantage of the public sense of disgrace and shame that surrounds premarital sex. Devi’s father, played brilliantly by Sanjay Mishra who is a retired Sanskrit professor is called to the police station. He gets his daughter back if he pays the bail money; he will get his daughter back with her reputation untarnished if he agrees to pay an addition 3 lakhs, over the course of three months to the police.
Elsewhere, Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), a Dom (one who cremates corpses) meets Shaalu (Shweta Tripathy) and falls in love with her. Their romance blooms over Facebook chats, red balloons let lose in the sky, quiet dates at restaurants and sneaky bike rides. But underneath the innocence of first love, lies the ugly reality of caste. Deepak and Shaalu belong to two different castes; even in the 21st century it plays a very big role in the lives of all Indians.

The protagonists in both the story arcs represent the young generation who refuse to be constricted by the social barriers. They are independent, strong, defiant, and surprisingly brave for the world they belong to. Devi has no qualms of admitting to the police that she was in the room to quench her curiosity about sex; she shouts out at her father “Koi kandh main e nehin machaii!!” (I haven’t done anything wrong) And in the same way Shaalu reassures Deepak, when she gets to know of his heritage that they will run away from home to be together, if the need arises.

Masaan is uncluttered and it takes the audience back to remembering what it is like to be in love for the very first time. Debutants Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathy is a spontaneous couple; their romance is a snapshot of minimalism, candour and clumsiness that only a small town romance can capture. Richa Chadda as Devi is strangely a very subdued character from her previous characters in Gangs of Wasseypur and Fukrey. But there was a sense of monotony in her acting throughout the movie; one expects a little more guts. Her emotions at times felt too controlled and stoic. However it is the silence between the father-daughter that speak volumes.

It is symbolic that the characters from the two arcs cross path at the Sangam (the confluence of the three rivers in Allahabad). Masaan is a brilliant directorial debut by Neeraj Ghaywan; it is poetic and is concerned with loss as much it is with love. Through Avinash Arun, the cinematographer we are shown what a charm Varanasi is. Several crucial moments spin around the Ganga, and is beautifully shot. They linger in our memory like the flames dying slowly in the cremation grounds where so much of Masaan unwinds.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Only Lovers Left Alive

The White Witch and Loki are a centuries old vampire couple in Jim Jarmusch’s vampire drama Only Lovers Left Alive. Isn’t that a fun pairing? It was the casting that caught my attention because I always steer clear of the vampire film genre. I abhor it with much passion and believe that it is a crime for the vampire film genre to be even a genre. But Only Lovers Left Alive is not just a vampire film, it is a vampire art movie.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) live half a world apart but are still very much in love with each other. They also happen to be vampires and have lived through the centuries; they look tired having survived all of the atrocities that mankind has unleashed upon itself. They survive because they have to survive, and see no other way. Adam is a reclusive musician having an affinity for musical instruments, living in a dilapidated house in Detroit. He has two contacts in the human world – Ian (Anton Yelchin), whom he calls a zombie and a doctor at the local hospital who supplies him with pure O negative blood. Adam’s name for the humankind is his personal joke because he believes that even though men are the actual living creatures, they are not really alive, their souls having been tarnished because of greed, power, wealth, wars, corruption, but mostly because of their squandered ability to appreciate art. Eve (Tilda Swinton), his one big true love arrives from Tangier comes to check up on him when she senses a feeling of resignation and dejection over the phone. Yes, vampires use the phone, a i-Phone at that too. Adam has lost faith in mankind, he feels that they have no future. He asks Eve in a weary tone “Has the water wars started yet, or is it still oil?”, when the two of them sit discussing the finer points of the composition of blood and the percentage of water that engulfs our planet. They make love, but it is not a lustful, violent love where it is gory and bloody, it is a sensual love; they make art.

Adam and Eve are artists; even when they are not Adam and Eve they choose to be artists through Stephen Dedalus and Daiy Buchanan. They are too aristocratic to be mundane, they are muses and critics of the ideals. Navigating the 21st century is not an easy task, especially when you have lived through the centuries and navigated through the worst. But blood popsicles?! That is a novel idea. And that is how Eve tries to cheer up Adam, when he becomes suicidal. The fact that contaminated blood affects the vampires and makes them sick is a fun concept indeed. This is why they refer to the O negative as “the Good Stuff”; it gives them a high, it makes them euphoric. Their real appetite, however, is for culture. Nothing passes the centuries better than a good read or a great tune. Theirs is an affectionate reunion consummated through vinyl listening parties, chatty chess matches, and gorgeous, nighttime tours of a ghost-town Detroit.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a slow paced movie, progressing through with so much languor that it might seem that it is gliding. It is mostly a sumptuously narcotised atmosphere, and the haunting eerie soundtrack carries the movie on its back. Adam and Eve have wit, warmth and a certain raffish flamboyance that makes them oddly endearing. They are undoubtedly seductive, and anyone who shares their musical, literary and cinematic interests will luxuriate in their company.

Only Lovers Left Alive is full of rare and gorgeous images and sounds, heavy with wistful sighs and sprinkled with wry, knowing jokes — but it is also thin and pale, and is too afraid of daylight; the entire movie takes place at night. It is all atmosphere and attitude, as evanescent as a dream; it brings about a sense of nostalgia and even connoisseurship at one level. Adam and Eve showcase that throughout the centuries, love is the only true thing that exists.