When you hear about a film being praised all over with some calm news coverage, then that becomes a decent notable thing asking for your kind attention. But if you get to know about a film getting long standing ovations in the festivals abroad as well as in the country winning a few reputed awards, then that becomes an entirely different concept raising your expectations levels to sky high hoping for an emotionally shattering, path breaking film talking about something fresh not to be missed at any cost.
And many a times that’s exactly what works against a simple, lovingly made film willing to win maximum hearts in the theater to be honest.
So revealing the basic review, where at one end MASAAN does turn out to be a fine, worth watching film as a powerful debut of director Neeraj Ghaywan, capturing the basic essence of Banaras representing life and death together, at the other it doesn’t offer anything outstandingly new in terms of the basic story content and isn’t able to shake you well as expected from a film majorly focusing on DEATH.
Putting it bluntly, the standing ovation from the foreign audience as well as from a particular section of Indian festival viewers, was probably just because of the extensive ‘burning ghats’ shots and sequences shown in the film for the first time ever in such details. Exactly similar to many of those early Ismail Merchant movies that used to exploit the Indian cities, its local people, traditional rituals, caste-system, suppression of women and poverty on screen winning over the influential western audience for the obvious reasons.
As a matter of fact, my above conclusion got confirmed, when I found many of the co-viewers walking out of the theater talking with each other in terms of,
“It’s good no doubt, but….. that’s it….. jitna suna tha utni nahin thi”.
Straight away pointing towards the humongous expectations raised by the several news reports, tweets, FB posts and videos posted at social network about those ‘standing ovations’. Perhaps in absence of them all, MASAAN could have impressed a lot more, making a surprising impact bridging the gap between the mainstream and festival cinema as desired.
Anyway moving on to the film, it presents two different storylines running parallel to each other that finally meet at a mutual point in the end, representing the ‘Sangam’ - a progression we have earlier witnessed several times before in various films. Thankfully, the interesting insertions in this familiar setup remain ‘many’ ranging from ‘young mind's excitement over sex’, ‘mms curse’, ‘police corruption’ and ‘underemployment of educated girls’ (in the story related with Sanjay Mishra and Richa Chaddha) to ‘soft inter-caste romance’, ‘role of Facebook in an affair’, ‘mention of many renowned Indian poets’ and ‘extensive coverage of burning ghats’ (in the second plot revolving around Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathi).
Focusing on ‘hope’ guiding every single character in its script, the major strength of MASAAN (a local spoken word denoting ‘Shamshaan’) becomes its rare picturisation of Banaras like never before, with bodies being burnt by the ‘masaanis’ following their daily hard routine, breaking skulls as the traditional ritual setting the spirits free and the ‘pandas’ making an earning by supposedly reaching and feeding the already dead as per the ages old religious customs. So here we have an entirely different city of Banaras/Varanasi/Kashi that is not the usual tourist destination or ‘the holy town’ normally seen in our movies till date.
But since the film offers all these emotionally moving and worth experiencing sequences post intermission only, therefore it just remains a sweet, realistic take on relationships in the entire first half that actually restricts its overall impact on the viewers as mentioned before. In other words, beginning with an otherwise shocking ‘hotel scene’ involving a young sexually excited couple, MASAAN is not a film that grabs you from the neck and keeps you engrossed throughout with something novel happening on the screen on a regular basis. With all well-expressed emotional outbursts coming at long intervals, it takes some time to pull you in and then makes a decent impression in the end with a better second half like a sweet that tastes the best as it ends.
Apart from that, the most significant contribution of MASAAN for the younger generation happens to be the inclusion of respected names of Dushyant Kumar, Nida Fazli, Akbar Allahabadi, Bashir Badr, Brij Narayan Chakbast and more that many might not have even heard before like the hero of the film trying to impress his chosen girl with a song from film QAYAMAT SE QAYAMAT TAK. And with such inclusions MASAAN does fulfill the responsibility of good cinema introducing the current generation with all our masters of the past as required. (Do visit www.rekhta.org if you wish to know more about the works of all names mentioned above and more)
In its worth listening soundtrack, Varun Grover writes meaningful lyrics and Indian Ocean comes up with a beautiful composition of “Tu Kisi Rail Si Guzarti Hai, Main Kisi Pul Sa Thartharata Hoon” sung by Swanand Kirkire (adapted from a ghazal by Dushyant Kumar) shot with a visual metaphor of a train, a bridge and a river in the backdrop along with ‘Mann Kasturi’ (Amit Kilam/Varun Grover) and ‘Bhor’ (Amit Kilam, Rahul Ram, Himanshu Joshi/Sanjeev Sharma).
Giving the much deserving credit to another substantial merit of MASAAN, it’s the cinematography of the film capturing Varanasi and DEATH together with a completely different vision by Avinash Arun (the director of award winning Marathi film KILLA). And Avinash’s silent camera indeed makes a lot of difference to the end result of the product, unarguably.
In the acting department, we once again have Sanjay Mishra excelling in his effortless act of a helpless poor father scoring the maximum and its really a treat to watch his every scene in the film, especially the ones with the small kid. Richa Chaddha tries hard to put up a good show and delivers to a large extent but its Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathi who remain completely natural and adorable in their respective parts with Shweta winning every heart in the theater in just a few scenes through her innocent looks and intelligent talks. As usual the talented Pankaj Tripathi makes his presence felt in a small cameo coming in the film’s second hour. And not to forget the little ‘diver’ kid, who frankly comes up with the most moving sequence of the film while trying to win the big race for his old man.
In all, MASAAN surely deserves to be seen as a must because of its unusual execution revolving around the burning ghats and all realistic characters emoting well on screen pointing towards our known social curses still continuing as it is from hundreds of years. Yet as a film specifically focusing on DEATH, I personally found it much less hard hitting, missing that instant emotional connect and ‘cinematic power of transforming the viewer’, to be honest.
Ratings : 3.5 / 5 (Including a big one for the key song and mention of maestro poets in its script)
(As my humble suggestion for all friendly readers of BTC who are willing to begin/continue/enhance their individual spiritual quest………….)
After watching MASAAN, if you can……. then do essentially visit the holy city of VARANASI for just a couple of days…….only to go through a ‘life transforming experience’ of being at the burning ghats known as MANIKARNIKA GHAT. A blessed place as per traditional tales, where bodies are set to fire in every hour of the day and night without any break and you will find many of them waiting for their turn covered in pure white sheets lying all over the place offering a rare visual. Tons of logs being regularly brought in to fulfill the continuous need and the ‘masanis’ busy doing their assigned duty as a daily ritual without much of their personal concern. The place has got a divine, magnetic pull and as per the traditional belief, every cremation here denotes or ensures ultimate liberation as per the boon given by Lord Shiva himself.
In few words, just sitting beside the holy Ganga, looking at those burning pyres being arranged one after the another will reveal the worthlessness of all silly EGO games we continue playing in our small lives of just 60-70 years, most of which actually finishes off much before we start to realize the real thing.
Just being amongst that thick smoke rising from the numerous fires, the smell of those burning bodies being turned to ashes in few hours and the visuals of relatives standing still with their moist eyes not willing to move back will become the most potent meditation you have ever practiced in your entire life.
So if possible just be there at the earliest and feel the blessings showered upon the place that has a story about a ‘jewelled ear ring’ belonging to Lord Shiva and Parvati that incidentally fell into a kund (water-pit) dug by Lord Vishnu and hence the name “MANIKARNIKA GHAT”.
Interestingly MASAAN too has got a reference of a ring in its few key sequences that goes through many hands becoming the ultimate saviour as destined by The Almighty. And if you do believe in Cinema capable of teaching & transforming lives, then take a hint, book a ticket and be there at THE PLACE to spend a few calm, enlightening hours refreshing your inner soul.
Moreover, just think about the fact, that we all very often wish to plan a visit to a foreign country to be in that ‘advanced environment’, studying their people, historical monuments, tourists spots and religious places, when we have not even explored our own beloved INDIA and its rich traditional cities, still having the divine vibes of every single blessed saint who has been there in the past.