By Ishita Chauhan:
On Friday (24th July 2015) I watched the trailer, and on Saturday coerced my cousin sister to watch ‘Masaan’ with me. “It’s on me!” I proclaimed, willing to pay any amount for the tickets. She was quite excited to watch the film herself but she found my enthusiasm slightly strange. “Oh, I have a total crush on Vicky Kaushal,” I lied, “and of course I love Richa Chadda.”
The real reason for my near obsession with watching the film at any cost was my interest in watching the love story of Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) and Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi). We all bring our own baggage of stories, dreams and failures when we come to watch a film. For me that secret was my own love life with an amazing guy who happens to be from a Scheduled Caste.
You see, since the day he told me this in the most heartbreaking manner, I have been a woman obsessed with caste. I was aware and sensitive to caste issues in our country before he told me, and often fought with my parents on the issue, but now it was not exactly that: an issue. It had just gotten personal. I saw what my own caste privilege had not allowed me to see previously. Lack of representation in media, careless casteist remarks, the elitism and casteism existing even in ‘liberal’ politics, it all got me in a state of protest and despair at the same time. My upper caste bubble had made me believe caste doesn’t hurt in urban spaces.
Now I look for caste everywhere, guessing the caste of successful people, actors, scholars, politicians. I began to search for answers on Quora to questions like “Does caste still matter in India?” and “How difficult is it for a Scheduled Caste boy to marry an upper caste girl?” I was googling inter-caste marriages in India, pratiloma and anuloma, as it turned out, weren’t Yoga breathing techniques, while reading despairingly on caste related violence in India and following the Dalit History Month page on Facebook.
I was looking for answers everywhere. Answers that would help me broach the topic with my parents, the method of negotiation and the crux of my argument. I went to watch the film for the same reason, in my quest for answers. The trailer had me teary eyed so much so that I was skeptical of viewing the film in public because I was scared of my reaction to the outcome. However considering that it would be a month before a download link was available, I decided to take a risk with the waterworks.
The movie begins with Devi (Richa Chadda) watching porn, satiating her curiosity, just the way I was. This scene has been discussed in all reviews I read, and is being seen as the expression of female desire and sexuality. In the first half of the film the story develops in the most poignant fashion, closing for interval with the amazing expression of anger and frustration by Deepak as he tells Shaalu where he really lives, in short what his caste is. I was moved by the story and the performances in the first half and knew that now was the time for some soul-searching on Shaalu’s end and some answers in the narrative.
However, all my hopes and expectations from the movie were foiled in that anti-climatic scene where Deepak realises that it is Shaalu’s corpse waiting to be burnt at the funeral pyre he had prepared. I have to admit that Vicky Kaushal was simply brilliant in the entire film especially in this scene of realization. But for me it was a false moment.
The fault lay not in the acting but in the plot itself. The narrative that had to kill the upper caste love interest of the boy from Dom community right after she had told him in a rushed phone call that if need be she was willing to run away too, seemed unfair and incomplete to me. My thoughts went rushing to a particularly boring lecture on ‘The Mill On The Floss’. The teacher, in a shrill voice claimed that even though George Eliot lived an unconventional life, had to kill of Maggie Tulliver as death was the only solution she could imagine for unconventional desires and transgressions. I felt rather cheated and felt like George Eliot looking for solutions through the female protagonist, except I was passively watching the action on screen.
There were certain moments that salvaged the narrative, especially the scene where Shaalu, sitting down to eat at a roadside dhaba with her family, hears her mother comment that the food there was good because the owner belonged to their caste. The sudden awareness of caste for Shaalu was quite akin to mine and so was the defiance. The film however does not develop Shaalu’s relationship with her parents because parents do have a tendency to complicate the dynamics of defiance. Deepak will have to prove his worth and climb up socially by getting a government job, but a discussion of class would make this review never-ending.
The three actors Richa Chadda, Shweta Tripathi and Vicky Kaushal were extremely good but Richa’s and Shweta’s roles left me wanting for more. I wanted to see more of them. Masaan left me mostly underwhelmed. I was not expecting a caste revolution through the love story but I was definitely expecting a struggle or a negotiation, one that would not end in death. If there is a takeaway, for me it was that we are way stronger than what the characters imagine themselves to be, and that you move on from any tragedy, however deeply it might have touched you.