‘Masaan:’ Limited appeal

MUMBAI: Now this one is a film truly reflecting the real India. The Manikarnika Ghat at the Banaras is said to be so sacrosanct for the cremation of a deceased Hindu that it is said to guarantee eternal Nirvana, a short cut to heaven notwithstanding how one lived the life or the sins committed!

The characters, at least the main male protagonist’s life revolves around this holy crematorium site and hence the title. Otherwise, the film is about two love stories, one nipped in the bud and the other one just when it has ripened. The stories of two star-crossed lovers traverse parallel on the banks of River Ganges in Banaras also to find their culmination on the banks of Ganges, but in another town, Allahabad on this river flowing over 2500 km plus across India and Bangladesh.

Richa Chadda is at an age when she is easily attracted to a fellow student at her academy, grows fond of him and agrees to give herself to him. They check into a shady lodge to give vent to their pent up sexual urges when the cops barge in. There is no bar on consensual sex between two adults but not knowing the basic law, carries a high price. Also, there is the fear of losing face. The couple is caught in the act. The boy in this case fears shame and family reprisal, locks himself in the washroom and kills himself. The cop on the spot threatens Richa with abetment to suicide case despite the cause of suicide being the police.

On Richa’s part, it was a natural calling of a girl in her upper teens but the top cop takes to blackmailing her father, Sanjai Mishra: the price tag is Rs 3 lakh. Manikarnika Ghat is known for its Hindu last rites as cremation here sets the soul free of the deceased. Mishra makes a living out of selling accessories needed for the ritual, making about Rs 10,000 a month. The income of the household shrinks further as Richa is forced to leave her job thanks to taunts and jibes from her fellow workers about her deed. Another job and still the same problem. Her reputation precedes her. The whole world runs her down and her father, Mishra, leads the bunch.

Then there is Vicky Kaushal. He belongs to a family, which makes a living out of burning dead bodies on the ghat. It is a family business. Vicky is studying engineering but in his spare time, also helps his folk cremate dead bodies. The work is rather gory and heartless as the ritual says a burning body’s skull needs to be hit hard seven times with a pole to crack it so that the dead person’s soul attains heaven.

Then Kaushal falls in love. The girl, Shweta Tripathi, is an upper cast Gupta, from the Agrawal trader’s family. The love blossoms notwithstanding social taboos despite both sides knowing the barriers. But, finally, before social taboos can interfere, fate does. Kaushal and Shweta are parted.

Richa has accepted an ad hoc job with the railways and soon as her father’s Rs 3 lakh obligation is over, decides to move to Allahabad where she doesn’t expect her taint to follow. Meanwhile, Kaushal gets a job with the railways on probation. He too gets a posting at Allahabad. With empty hearts and heavy minds, both end up, symbolically, at the Allahabad Sangam, accept the mallha’s (boatman) pitch to take a boat ride and get talking. Two of a kind, sort of.

The film has dark sides as well as some bright moments with a satisfactory end. The story is interesting and very earthy depicting a side of India, which is as ancient as it always has been and not likely to change soon so what if they are well versed with laptops and cell phones.

First time director, Neeraj Ghaywan, who is also the writer with Varun Grover, makes sure everything about the scenario is realistic. The musical score is thematic and blends well with the proceedings. Cinematography is excellent.

Such a film needs able performers and, to that end, the casting is perfect. Richa is totally in to her character. Mishra, as usual, lives up to his reputation given a good role. Shweta is perfect playing the pampered girl in love for the first time. Kaushal is a natural. The young boy, playing the help to Mishra, Nikhil Sahni, is promising. Rest are equally good.

Masaan, having made its mark at the Cannes Film Festival with two awards: International Jury of Film Critics prize and Promising Future prize in the Un-Certain Regard section, will appeal to connoisseurs of cinema and its box office prospects will be limited to a few multiplexes and, to some extent, in UP.

Producers: Vikas Bahl, Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga, Vikramaditya Motwane, Shaan Vyas, Manish Mundra, Marie-Jeanne Pascal, Mélita Toscan du Plantier

Director: Neeraj Ghaywan

Cast: Richa Chaddha, Vicky Kaushal, Shweta Tripathi, Sanjai Mishra, Nikhil Sahni

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