Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Cast: Rajat Barmecha, Ronit Roy, Aayan Boradia, Manjot Singh
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Runtime: 150 min. (citation needed)
Verdict: A beautiful little film, and a rare film, that carries neither rebellion nor revolution in its heart, but honor.
Genre: Drama
        Early on in Udaan, the two close buddies, Rohan (Mr. Barmecha) and Maninder (Mr. Singh) share a private moment within the woods of Shimla. It is a moment given to silence, moments you remember crystal clear years after. Rohan lets out a little poem, and Maninder listens. The poems ends, the silence continues. A moment of uncomfortable silence within a moment of comfortable silence. Beat. Beat. Beat. This is the exact kind of sequence where you want the filmmaking to pause, and let the scene live and breathe on its own. A still frame, just reflecting. Udaan doesn’t do that, and instead causes a little edit for every beat. In that little moment, you feel the filmmaking is intruding, is making itself felt rather than leaving us alone with it. To create such a moment filled not with melodrama, but naked emotions tells you this is a film given to compassion, to specifics, to life. And to intrude it tells you it is aware of the little nuances of a moment, and it feels the need to convey every little aspect of it.
        Rohan and Maninder have been expelled from their prestigious boarding school, courtesy a late night run-off session at the local sleazy theatre with Kanti Shah’s Angoor. Rohan, with his big black trunk, finds himself in Jamshedpur, his old house, and his dad’s house. The house has stairs, and after having spent eight years in the boarding school, Rohan pulls that big black trunk of his up those stairs. We all know how heavy luggage feels like, especially when directed upwards, and Udaan feels the pain when he pulls it up the first flight. It cuts. To him pulling on the second flight. Is the moment undermined, or is the film just doesn’t have the heart to watch the whole thing. I don’t know, but I guess you got to be tough to pull your stuff, however high that might be. Such questions are repeated, throughout the film, slowly peeling layers off it.
        Udaan is a story of such moments, tender moments, sweet moments, dramatic moments, moments that are wondering if they’ve been scripted out of movies or reality, moments that plain break your heart. And moments filled with such claustrophobic frustration you want to just punch your way through the screen into its world and bang the hell out of its obstinacy only to realize that it is not. Obstinate. Much later into the movie, Rohan tries to start his father’s rickety old Contessa Classic, that first dud out of Hindustan Motors, and it doesn’t. He tries, he tries again, and he tries again. Often, in such situations, where a piece of machinery doesn’t follow your commands, a certain stubbornness takes over your self. You just want to bend the machine. He starts, and he starts, and it doesn’t. He just picks up a rod and beats it mercilessly. In there, within that moment, you want to grab a rod too, and beat the hell out of it. The glass sure does break, but does the car? The narrative suggests, through a cop, that it is better if a new car is bought. I don’t know if the suggestion was in light of it being a Contessa, but I felt the car stand quite resolutely. The glass breaks, sure, a few dents, sure, but is it the scene of total destruction/annihilation one desires? Or is it like banging your head against a wall in total disgust? I saw the car stand there, made of iron. I think that little moment, ever so subtly, serves as a synecdoche to Rohan’s life.
        My brother would often remark that Contessa Classic was a poor man’s version of that first Mercedes Benz’s car we saw in India. I don’t remember the name, but to the eyes of an impressionable little kid it felt true. Forgive me my silly prejudices. And supply me the name of that Merc. And if my brother was true, it has to be one of my earliest trysts with pretension. That Contessa is owned by Bhairav Singh (Mr. Roy), and the broad royal framework of the car is just the choice for the man. He is best described as, well, let us just say he worships patriarchy. He is tough. Raises his kids tough. Wakes them up in the morning. Compels them to jog with him, while he jogs chest held high. He smokes, and he drinks. He wears black sunglasses that accentuate his stern look. You might believe this is a completely masculine world, where even the most fleeting appearance of sentiment might be struck down and ridiculed as weakness and feminine. Gender bias is a given just as day and night are. Several films run through your mind. All those films which had the same basic desire at their heart – to be deemed worthy in the eyes of the patriarch.
        I think, deep down, Udaan starts along the same lines too. There’s a little kid on the house, Rohan’s younger brother Arjun, barely six years old, and he is given no special treatment either, the wisdom of the house being that if you’re born with your own set of angoor, you better be prepared to be rough and tough, and walk around like an archetypical definition of a male. Udaan intrudes this little world, not merely as a voyeur, but as a perspective of the son, the perspective of the guarded. It sure doesn’t leave any room for us to attach our observations on the poetries and ironies of life. We are, by intercutting, by over-the-shoulder shots made aware that what goes around comes around, and what comes around goes around. You are a child, sure son, but to someone, you are a guardian. There is a little movie in there, yeah, but then little Arjun is so tiny and so innocent your heart completely breaks for him.
        Traditional movie wisdom teaches us that stern fathers are most typically gels on the inside, waiting to be discovered. That’s romanticism for you. Rohan thinks so too. And he stays there silently and honorably protesting, caged by honor, to peel it all away and discover his father. Ah, honor! Father! Such magical words for a son. Honor might be the most noble of all masculine emotions. You might love or hate your son, or your father, but deep down honor guides your actions towards them. In art, sure, because in life too. That romantic notion that sons grow up to be their fathers is because that honor plants the seed of respect. You want to be deemed honorable too, and your heart desires that respect. That honor is what Rohan seeks, and Udaan is a beautiful film not because it has it all pre-figured, but because Rohan realizes the truth, moment by moment, much later than we in the audience have realized (probably because our old man is not on the screen but at home), that his little journey is not a road to discovery but a gradual path to realization. You should experience it.
        My friend reminded of another movie, incidentally set in Bihar (this one is set in Jharkhand), where there is absolute absence of women. That was Matrubhoomi. In Udaan there’s no mother in the house, and for that matter there are no women in the film. Oh, but that doesn’t mean there’s absence of the feminine, or sole prevalence of the masculine. There’s a moment towards the end when Rohan, deciding to leave the house, runs away while his father chasing him. It is almost a thrilling chase sequence. But it isn’t the final shot. Because running is not supposed to. Not in my eyes. And the film surprised me, and pleased me how it ended. With an action infinitely more honorable than running away, and an idea placed within Bhairav’s brain. I tell you, you would be pleased too.


Cherish said...

Surprisingly there is no mention of the poetry, background score and the songs? Especially the chase scene you mentioned, I felt background score accentuates the scene...

Just Another Film Buff said...


unicorn said...

I am glad you watched it, we have a lot of movies to be discussed on our list now :P

Vaibhav Mathur said...

@Cherish - Of course, the background score and the songs are amazing. And still more amazing is the placement of these throughout.

For instance, the scenes like silence between two friends, heavy trunk being dragged, or taking out all the anger on car have not been marred by a background score being played. Silence in these scenes, or the presence of only the sounds like trunk being dragged or window panes being broken is what makes these moments so pleasant and natural. And then there are scenes like college-style banter in the car with the newly made friends (where the song "Geet" picks in), or narrating a story in the hospital, which could have easily been the areas where director had the option to make the dialogue or the monologue much more clearer, so as to make the regular audience laugh or to hear a complete story from the narrator respectively. However, the director rather added loud background music in these two situations, which made the conversations inaudible. Yet the music and the inaudibility of these conversations served their purpose pretty well. The director wanted us not to laugh at the banter, but rather to feel happy on seeing the protagonist laughing himself at that moment. The director didn't want us to hear the complete story being narrated at the hospital, but rather to experience his good knack of story-telling that made several people (a kid, old patients, young patients, nurses, doctors) listen keenly to him. These are the subtle things which mark the difference between a good movie and a great movie. You don't need to shout out loud to tell what you want to tell.

@Satish - Wonderful review for this movie. Each and every thing I experienced on watching this movie is mentioned here precisely.