MUMBAI - In his debut film “Masaan” (Crematorium), director Neeraj Ghaywan chooses to tell the story of three characters. Two are human, and the third is the ghats of Banaras – riverfront steps leading to the holy Ganges that double up as cremation grounds for Hindus.
Stunningly shot by Avinash Arun, Ghaywan’s film is austere but effective, managing to oscillate between its two story threads without losing its flow for the most part. Narrating the story of Devi and Deepak, two residents of Banaras whose lives are inextricably linked to the ghats, Ghaywan sketches a portrait of a city that is decayed, both physically and morally.
Devi (Richa Chadda) gets in trouble with the police after she is caught in bed with her boyfriend in a seedy hotel. At the mercy of a corrupt policeman who demands money from her father (played by Sanjay Misra) to save her “honour”, Devi struggles to deal with the stigma and humiliation that follows her everywhere in town.
Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) is a soft-spoken engineering student whose low-caste family works in the crematoriums – burning bodies, collecting their ashes and stoking the fires on the ghats. He is smitten by Shalu (Shweta Tripathi) and the two develop a romance that Ghaywan and writer Varun Grover depict in a manner so charming and old-world that it is difficult not to be moved by it.
Kaushal and Tripathi also share an easy chemistry and their relationship, which goes from stolen glances in a crowded fair to an awkward kiss on a lonely river bank, is the highlight of the film. Equally charming is Pankaj Tripathi in a small role as a railway ticket collector who is smitten with Devi, a role that you wish had been expanded a little more just because of Tripathi.
Ghaywan is sure-footed for the most part but he slips up towards the end and the story feels disjointed. Deepak’s journey, especially, feels like there are chunks missing from the plot line.
Richa Chadda is the film’s weakest link. She goes through the two-hour-long film without so much as a change in expression, delivers her lines in monotone, and doesn’t exhibit the conflict that her character is supposed to be going through. Sanjay Misra is the exact opposite playing the conservative priest who struggles to come to terms with his headstrong daughter and her ideas of sexual freedom.
“Masaan” is full of small details – the dialect that the characters speak and what they eat and how they behave are all part of the tapestry. Ghaywan doesn’t overstate his points, and even though the resolution he finds for his characters is predictable, their journey is interesting enough to make up for a cliched ending. -Reuters
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