Mumbai, 19 Apr 2018 9:15 IST
A turbulent, emotional story is elevated by Majidi's signature touches of humanism and innocence in a cruel world.
Over the last couple of weeks, your reviewer has been mulling over questions about morality, humanity, and the extent of hate that pushes men to become beasts. How do people find their humanity when all around them they see depravation and cruelty.
Director Majid Majidi offers a simple answer to the questions through the innocence and joy of children born in strife. In Beyond The Clouds, the director captures, yet again, the soul of humanity that lurks among children.
The story begins with Amir (Ishaan Khatter), a teen born and bred by the underbelly of the city of Mumbai. He is a drug peddler, ambitious and brash. When he rubs off drug boss and pimp Rahoul (Shashank Shende) the wrong way, his life begins to take a turn for the worse.
His troubles are compounded when his only hope, his sister Tara (Malavika Mohanan) is arrested for attempting to murder her laundry owner, Akshi (Gautam Ghose). Amir is left with no choice, but to care for Akshi (and later, his family) to ensure Tara's release, while fighting his own battle.
Beyond The Clouds is no Slumdog Millionaire (2009), although one chase sequence (with an AR Rahman background score) does carry elements of the Oscar-winning film.
Where Majidi comes into his own is in the inherent humanism of his story. Amir and Tara are children of a lesser god, ignored, abused, and infused with cynicism. Yet, they are ambitiously optimistic. At their worst, they are often pushed to the limits. But they always return to their human roots.
Their hatred and vengeance is contrasted by the innocence of the people around them. Majidi constructs these contrasting sequences, one following the other, making them instantly affecting. One sequence of Amir ogling Akshi's daughter for revenge is a particularly harrowing one, in the context of recent events.
The film is not without flaws. The first half seems to ebb and flow without creating an impact. At times, the melodrama feels superficial and ineffective. However, there is a cinematic elegance and visual quality that redeems them.
It is in the second half that the film truly emerges from the shadows. The sight of Amir drawing on the walls with Akshi's children, or Tara's first interaction with Chhotu, the innocent child of an inmate (Tannishtha Chatterjee) growing up in jail are sequences that stay with you. The story suddenly dives into life around the domesticity of the jailed prisoners, around medical shop visits and hospital stays.
Ishaan Khatter delivers a raw but effective performance that belies his experience. The actor is wonderful as the complicated young Amir. The scene where he lets his anger explode on the keep of pigeons, while terrified children wail behind the door is a standout example. Another is his Russian roulette with the oxygen tank in the hospital. The swagger, rawness, and presence make this performance praiseworthy.
Malavika Mohanan is graceful, composed and has a presence. However, the actress falters in emotionally heavy sequences. But the second half offers redemption and she delivers with elan.
Yet, Majidi's true victory lies in the ensemble cast. GV Sharada as the old 'paati' (grandmother) Jhumpa, is moving and expressive without speaking a word in Hindi (no subtitles either). Young Dhwani Rajesh, who plays the only bridge of broken English between her Tamil grandmother and Amir is wonderful in her expressions. Her innocence is captured to dramatic effect through the film.
Then, there are the children who do so much without acting. Perhaps, that is their greatest gift.
Majidi, the director of Children Of Heaven (1997) and The Song Of Sparrows (2008) stays true to his innate science of cinema. Despite the larger scale, change in location and ethos, he does not waver from his faith in the story about inherently good people in the worst circumstances. He captures their humanity subtlely, but makes it impossible to ignore.
A special mention to the cinematography of Anil Mehta that delves into the city of Mumbai, without focussing on the usual sights. From dusty sunlit rooms, to pigeonholed viewpoints, the cinematographer brings to life Majidi's scenes by framing them beautifully. The camera lingers on key moments, framing them in chiaroscuro (light and shadows), turning them into art.
AR Rahman's soft, underplayed music adds to the entire experience making this a complete cinematic treat.
As for the answer to the question about how the world can rediscover humanity while being surrounded by depravity, Majidi's film reminded your reviewer a poem by the famous Bengali writer Jibanananda Das.
Knowing we have pristine joy
Implanted deep in our bones
We float along the dirty surfaces of time
— Or else all would be drained out.
Nobody embodies it more than the children in Majidi's film. They are the silver moon beyond the clouds.
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