“’Masaan’ is not a film. It’s an emotion,” I said to a friend who, like many others, didn’t like the film because she thought it was too dark and that films are only made for entertainment. Now, I’m not an expert to comment on the finer aspects of cinema. In fact, all my views about a film solely depend on how a film makes me feel and the way in which its characters resonate with me. As I watch the film and simultaneously write about it, I realise not much has changed for me since I last watched it two years ago. It still hit me today the way it did then.
The movie “Masaan”, which is short for shamsaan, meaning crematorium, starts with the lines of Brij Narayan ‘Chakbast’:
“ज़िंदगी क्या है अनािसर में ज़ुहुर-ए-तरतिब, मौत क्या है इनही अज़्जा का परेशाँ होना (What is life, but a manifestation of orderliness and method in elements, what is death, but chaos within these same elements)”
These lines are what the film is made up of.
Set in Varanasi, the city of ghats, the film doesn’t show these ghats or foreigners renouncing their lives and desires. Rather, it talks about the deaths around it, the life and desires of the residents of the city and above all, the vicious circle of life and death and of loss and gain.
The film opens with its strong female protagonist, Devi Pathak (played by Richa Chaddha) watching a porn clip on her mobile phone. A woman’s sexual desire is established in this small detail. She is then seen going into a public washroom and changing into a saree after which she is seen checking into a hotel with a young man. But cops aka the moral police burst in, crushing the privacy, honour, and the right to sexual liberty of two free adult citizens.
Devi and her partner Piyush are caught naked and are filmed by our ‘law protectors’. Two people enjoying their intimate moments face humiliation and torture. This results in the man committing suicide. Corruption raises its ugly head from the dark corners of Varanasi. However, even through all this, Devi holds her ground. She unapologetically remains convinced that there is no crime in desiring pleasure if and when needed.
The movie parallelly tells the story of another girl, Shalu Gupta (Shweta Tripathi), who isn’t as fiercely independent and rebellious as Devi but can hold her ground too. She is neither afraid to fall in love with a boy from a lower caste nor is she worried about the consequences when her family would find out. “अगर भाग कर जाना होगा तो भाग भी लेंगे (If we have to elope I am ready for that too),” she tells Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) who belongs to a caste of corpse burners. He looks calm around burning corpses because there’s nothing unsettling about burning pyres for him.
The same man remains equally calm when he burns Shalu’s corpse but not because he didn’t feel anything but because a patriarchal society like ours doesn’t allow a man to grieve his loss. In the end, Deepak finally cries for Shalu. It is a revolt against this unsaid but universally followed manual of grieving. He is consoled by a group of male friends who let him sob, instead of advising him to stay strong.
When Deepak throws Shalu’s ring at an impulse, it helps Devi’s father pay the cop that kept blackmailing them. As Deepak consoles a sobbing Devi, the different narratives of the film flow poetically.
To different people “Masaan” may convey different messages. But to me, it is the story of different bodies that we come across every day. It is about bodies that, in the end, meet the same fate. Like I said, it’s more than a movie. It’s an emotion.
The parallel stories and themes in “Masaan” are complicated, yet the film doesn’t burden you. Rather it makes you feel lighter and calmer. And though “Masaan”, which was released along with the Salman Khan starrer “Kick”, failed to earn even half of the latter’s revenue, this work of art opened a new chapter for me.
It managed to convince me that as long as there are movies like “Masaan”, I can take the garbage that Bollywood usually keeps throwing at us in the name of films.
Thank you, Neeraj Ghaywan for “Masaan” which has the power to disturb and at the same time soothe me even after two years of its release.