Beyond The Clouds
Cast: Ishaan Khatter, Malvika Mohanan
Director: Majid Majidi
A gang of boys has cut a good deal in drugs and are back at their ‘adda’. One of them starts to breakdance on AR Rahman’s tune blaring in the background. He climbs on to a car roof and puts his moves on display. Suddenly, the police arrives and they are back to running and their crude, cruel street life. In a way, this sums up the tone of Beyond The Clouds. You’re always on the run and there is hardly any solace in it.
Iranian auteur Majid Majidi (Children Of Heaven, Baran) finds Mumbai a contrast between slums and high-rises. He places his metaphors around the idea of the maximum city and how everyone is living a dual life. How people’s inner craving for love, companionship and an honourable life is setting their lives in motion.
Not exactly like Danny Boyle though, whose Slumdog Millionaire was unidirectional in its pursuit of a little power and some money. Here, a spirited Amir (an earnest debut by Shahid Kapoor’s brother Ishaan Khatter) demands and donates more than just life. His humanity and actions are more naive, short-spanned and uncertain than Jamal Malik’s in Slumdog Millionaire.
Majidi smoothens the city’s hard edges and takes us to areas like Yaari Road, lonely beaches, dockyards and dhobi ghat. Unlike Anthony Dod Mantle (who was the director of photography for Slumdog Millionaire), he asks cinematographer Anil Mehta to not present the Mumbai slums in the most raw form. Taking a cue, Mehta trains his camera at relatively softer, less cynical view of life.
There begins the real work of both the leads, Amir and his sister Tara (Malavika Mohanan), two orphans sharing similar traits and compassion. There are awkward moments where you get confused about the strength of their emotional connection as Majidi doesn’t pay much attention to establishing their bond. In fact, the first half of the film lacks the emotional quotient Majidi brings to his films.
Thankfully, he gets into the groove in the second half with the entry of a few new characters. A mental tussle between greed, love, betrayal and innocence takes the centre stage. His expertise with kids comes handy while he floods the screen with images and smiles.
Beyond The Clouds doesn’t refrain from spoon-feeding, or maybe it’s the language constraint. You hear a child, who has never seen it, asking for moon on a cloudy night, and then somebody deciding to fulfil that wish. Then two friendly people will slowly slide into the same shawl while appreciating and exploring the blessings of life. It’s mostly clichéd and sometimes effective.
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The inner demons would also rear their heads, but they’ll be crushed in time. Shots from behind the curtains and against the light source, which are a highlight of Majidi’s films, are amply used. Actually, he never leaves it entirely to the actors to lighten up the scene or transform the mood. He prepares us for the transition
If Amir is having a change of heart, he would show ample signs of it. Similarly, Tara would go hysterical inside the jail, but she would also trigger an immediate change of behaviour in hardened people around her.
The tone is definitely humane. You feel for the characters, their lack of resources and the indomitable will to rise and shine. All this gets amplified manifold by veteran actor GV Sharada’s exceptionally refined performance. She plays a woman totally at the mercy of the city that doesn’t even speak her language, but she is one solid presence in the film. Her gaze, her empathy and benevolent eyes need no language.
Thematically, Beyond The Clouds might be one film, but it’s disjointed tonally. Sometimes, it seems you’re watching two stories struggling hard to culminate at the same juncture. Fortunately, there are some signature Majidi scenes that may prompt you to sob.
From the silent suffering of a morally degraded person to tracing the origins of a crime, Beyond The Clouds is emotion heavy, but it doesn’t become a case-study, and that dilutes the narrative’s importance.
It’s for Ishaan Khatter’s charming and heroic presence that keeps the momentum sustained. He is feisty, lively and full of potential. Inspired from Bollywood and its tales of one-upmanship, Ishaan Khatter twitches, smirks and shows cynicism without going overboard. Of course, he appears confident.
Despite excellent symbols and good performances in patches, Beyond The Clouds remains something we have seen and had expected. The uniqueness of the film hardly crosses the crowded bylanes. Majid Majidi’s foreign eyes see what all of them see.