I have rarely seen so many solemn people walk out of a film theatre. That’s the kind of effect Masaan has on you. You want to be left with your own thoughts, leaving the dissection of the film for later.
There’s a dark side to Banaras which the filmmakers have never cared to notice above the bustling ghats, grand aartis and colorful by-lanes. Masaan breaks through the stereotype and enters the part of the city that hides ugly demons of caste system and shame; where young boys are made to jump in the Ganga to find coins while the adults place bets on them; where the dead come to escape but the living are trapped.
Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) and Shaalu’s (Shweta Tripathi) heartwarming romance bears the weight of him being born a dom – the low caste community that burns dead bodies on the ghats. It’s ironic that the soul of the dead won’t escape till a low caste – considered untouchable all his life – touches the body. Devi (Richa Chaddha) is caught by the police in a hotel having sex with her boyfriend and is immediately labeled a prostitute, giving even a peon the right to demand sex from her. She is left with a dead lover, a blackmailing inspector and a huge burden of shame. What connects Deepak and Devi’s life is to get away from their trapped existence. In the midst, there’s troubled relation Deepak and Devi share with their brother and father (Sanjay Mishra) respectively.
There’s a constant struggle of new and old. This is the age of Facebook and Youtube and yet the huge divide of caste keeps hanging in the middle of a brewing romance. Deepak’s outburst when Shaalu constantly asks about his house and family suddenly makes sense a few scenes later. The guy who is steady as a rock and calm as a sea while burning dead bodies, is suddenly shaken. And Kaushal shines as Deepak in every frame. His nervous smiles while trying to woo Shaalu or the steely resolve to get out of the dump are brilliantly executed.
The direction is detailed like the scene where Deepak’s mother lights the stove with the fire from the ghat. In one of his tweets, director Neeraj Ghaywan explains that traditionally this is how the community lights up their stoves. The camera work is impeccable; Avinash Arun shows the charming city without overwhelming the audience. The shot where Deepak swims across the river and looks at the city from the opposite bank is splendid.
There are light moments in the film especially the ones between Sanjay Mishra and his help – a kid name Jhonta. But, Masaan is intense and deep and mature in its writing and story telling.