"Masaan" by Neeraj Ghaywan (India)
Festival de Cannes 2015 - Un Certain Regard
Name: Thomas Humphrey
Contact: [email protected]
It’s a pleasure to review Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan, a tale of two very different romances (both born out of Facebook), because it gives me the chance to herald one of Indian art-house cinema’s potential saviours. I have no right to say it needs saving of course, because I sure as Shilpa Shetty haven’t watched the whole genre. But nevertheless, Gurvinder Singh has already got it horribly wrong at Cannes this year with his dawdling The Fourth Direction. Whilst last year’s Venice Film Festival offering Labour of Love was style without substance. Only Chaitanya Tamhane's Court really proved to be an interesting piece of neo-realism, but it too lacked narrative firepower.
So thank goodness for Masaan, a film whose first scene packs a punch of May weatherean proportions. Initially things seem sedate, because we meet a quotation from Indian poet Brij Narayan Chakbast. This describes life as a balance of the five elements whilst death (which burns constantly on this film’s banks) is their disarray. But then we fade in to Devi Pathak (Richa Chadda) doing a casual bit of pornographic research (as you do). And before you know it, we’re whipping across town with this stranger, and putting out to a young man we’ve never met before. It isn’t entirely clear whether we’re involved in passion or prostitution either, as the police soon comes tumbling after.
However, what ensues makes all too clear that NSA sex in Ghaywan’s India carries strings aplenty. And the shame which surrounds sexuality also clearly still bears a heavy weight. A weight that allows the police to generate sex scandals whimsically, and begin lengthy processes of extortion. However, this film soon ravels out into further subplots and a delicate balancing act occurs. Small-town India becomes depicted both pessimistically and positively.
However the film’s two sets of characters is initially actually a weakness. The multiple plot lines are actually confusing at first, so it may take time to settle into Ghaywan’s rollercoaster. But once you do, it’s definitely worth it. This is one filmmaker who is definitely working towards a very exciting theory of film in motion, as his characters always relentlessly rattle about on various forms of transport.
Competing for the Camera d’Or, this film might also stand slightest chance of winning thanks to Ghaywan’s exquisite appreciation of colour. His film contains a host of costume changes, and the clothes, mise-en-scene and setting always offset each other in a glorious riot colours. The way this film reveals our inner sixteen-year-olds use Facebook is also far better than most (because we all know Facebook stalking leads to forking).
But this film equally deserves attention for its depiction of what one might call the “Indian New Woman” (or man). These individuals seem intensely wired, educated, sexually curious, but also unsure about where they will fit, which makes for a fascinating mix of themes and styles that hopefully other Indian auteurs will draw from.