Tag Archives: Shweta Tripathi

Movie Review: Masaan (2015)

Masaan3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Thanks to Just Me Mike for lending me his DVD copy of Masaan! Check out Mike’s film and TV reviews here.

Two young people struggle to grow within the confining social norms of modern-day Banaras in Masaan (international title: “Fly Away Solo“). The film is thought-provoking and full of moving performances.

Computer coach Devi (Richa Chadda) and her university student boyfriend Piyush check into a motel to finally consummate their relationship. “Curbing curiosities,” as Devi describes it. Their lovemaking is interrupted by the police, who storm into the room hoping to nab a couple engaging in premarital sex.

Police Inspector Mishra (Bhagwan Tiwari) revels in busting these two criminals. He tells Devi, “Your life is now ruined,” as he uses his phone to film her in a state of partial undress. He demands a bribe from Devi’s father, Mr. Pathak (Sanjay Mishra), in order to keep Devi out of jail. Mishra threatens to tarnish Pathak’s honor — not Devi’s, which is apparently already forfeit — by posting the video on YouTube if the impoverished bookseller doesn’t pay.

As Devi’s world falls apart, elsewhere in the city a young man falls in love. Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) is about to graduate from engineering school, the first member of his low-caste family to do so. He meets Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi), an opinionated young woman with a passion for poetry. As their feelings build through phone calls and clandestine meetings, Deepak chooses to ignore the fact that Shaalu’s higher caste status likely rules him out as a potential marriage partner.

Because the film opens with Devi’s tragedy, it’s impossible to enjoy Deepak’s romance with Shaalu. Watching them sneak glances at one another during a carnival feels like watching a horror movie, with the monster lurking around the corner clad in a police uniform.

Despite being a city of over a million people, the “small town” mentality in Banaras limits Devi’s options. As she switches jobs to avoid people familiar with her scandal, the expression in her eyes indicates that she has already checked out. Once she pays the bribe, Devi is moving away. Chadda gives Devi quiet fortitude coupled with an attitude that is beyond annoyed.

One minor subplot feels out-of-place in Masaan. During an argument, Pathak demands to know why Devi wants to punish him (as though her getting busted by the cops was directed at him). Instead of citing grievances such as Pathak’s eagerness to assume she’s at fault and his lack of compassion, Devi accuses him of having killed her mother by waiting to take her to the hospital.

It doesn’t make sense that Devi would have been a dutiful daughter her whole life, waiting until now to unload on him for something that happened when she was six. She has every right to be upset that he didn’t support her as an adult. The dead mother angle doesn’t fit.

Director Neeraj Ghaywan — who co-wrote Masaan with Varun Grover — takes advantage of Banaras’ most famous landmark: the city’s burning ghats where bodies are cremated. Deepak’s family business is burning corpses, and his engineering degree is his only hope of escape.

Americans are generally removed from the specific details of what happens to a body after death, so Ghaywan’s depiction of the pyres is eye-opening. Deepak’s father instructs one worker to tuck a corpse’s leg back under the burning logs. He yells at Deepak to smash open another corpse’s skull to “release the soul” (and help it burn more completely, no doubt).

Kaushal is terrific as Deepak, and Mishra and Tripathi are wonderful as well. Tiwari is callous and opportunistic as the corrupt inspector.

Two other performances stand out. Pankaj Tripathi — who normally plays villains or bumbling sidekicks — is sweet as an awkward ticket vendor with a crush on Devi. Little Nikhil Sahni is feisty and charming as Jhonta, a skinny orphan boy who drums up business for Pathak. Jhonta gradually comes to fill the void Pathak feels as his adult daughter pulls away from him.

Masaan is a really wonderful work from a first-time director with a bright future ahead of him. If it leads to quality, high-profile roles for the talented cast members, even better.

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Movie Review: Haraamkhor (2015)

Haraamkhor3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Haraamkhor (international title: The Wretched) is a captivating examination of adolescents and their understanding of sexuality and romantic relationships. The stakes are high for the kids in the film as they takes their uneasy steps toward adulthood.

The action in Haraamkhor centers around Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi), a 15-year-old schoolgirl. Her mother abandoned her years ago, and her police constable father is a secretive drunk. She’s new to the small town in Gujarat where she lives, and she has no friends.

She does have an admirer, however. Kamal (Irfan Khan of Chillar Party) is a skinny boy a few years Sandhya’s junior, and he is determined to marry her. Unfortunately, Kamal breaks both of his arms at the start of the film, forcing him to rely heavily on his best friend, Mintu (Modh Samad), for assistance in his romantic pursuits.

Mintu is the main source of dubious information about sex for all of the prepubescent boys in town. According to Mintu, a boy and a girl have to get married if they see each other naked. He helps Kamal spy on Sandhya in the shower before developing several botched plans to trick Sandhya into seeing Kamal naked. The best of his ridiculous plans involves Mintu acting as a miniature Hugh Hefner, photographing underwear-clad Kamal in what passes for a seductive pose to a pre-teen boy.

Sandhya’s other admirer isn’t so innocent. She’s smitten with her teacher, Shyam (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and the older man is happy to draw her into a sexual relationship. This isn’t his first time. His wife, Sunita (Trimala Adhikari), is herself a former student.

Kamal and Mintu are convinced that Sandhya and Shyam are having an affair, but the boys don’t completely understand what that means or consequences it could have. Shyam certainly does, but he’s brazen enough to ride around the small town with Sandhya. She wraps her head in a scarf as a disguise, as if people won’t recognize her bright red backpack and school uniform.

Writer-director Shlok Sharma is forgiving of Kamal’s and Sandhya’s naiveté. Kamal is very much still a kid, and Sandhya lacks good adult role models to guide her through puberty. She’s been disappointed by adults before — but not outright deceived, as she is by Shyam.

Sandhya eventually finds that role model in Neelu (Shreya Shah), the girlfriend her father has kept secret for years. Neelu knows exactly what Sandhya is going through and guides the girl without pushing her. The tender development of their relationship is one of the highlights of the film.

Every performance in the film is excellent. Shah is patient, Adhikari annoyed. Khan and Samad are boyhood at its most endearing. Tripathi is superb, playing a character half her age with great sympathy.

Siddiqui makes a villainous character seem downright ordinary, as though Shyam could be any guy in any town. He’s a violent predator, but thanks to Siddiqui, we see how Shyam is able to maintain his good standing in town for as long as he does.

The integration of Haraamkhor‘s two main storylines isn’t always successful. A scene of Shyam trying to molest Sandhya is immediately followed by Kamal and Neelu sneaking around Sandhya’s house, accompanied by dodo music. It’s hard to flip the emotional switch as quickly as Sharma demands.

But that’s the point of Haraamkhor, I guess. Kids don’t always get to grow up at the pace they are ready for.

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