Majid Majidi’s chronicles of humanism, whether it is Father (1996), Children Of Heaven (1997), The Color Of Paradise (1999), The Willow Tree (2005) or the Song Of Sparrows (2008), they all sing a melody of oneness and kinship. The kinship among the downtrodden is always shown to be special and indelible in Majid Majidi’s cinema. Here in Beyond The Clouds, it is the profound bonding between a brother and a sister that gives a centre to the plot.
Sibling bonding has been big in Bollywood since Choti Bahen in 1952 and Raakhi in 1959.We haven’t had a vital brother-sister bonding story since Pyari Behna in 1995 and Bandhan in 1998. In Beyond The Clouds, Majid Majidi’s protagonists are siblings played by Ishan Khattar and Malavika Mohanan. And neither has a love interest in the plot.
Children have always been handled with rare care by Majid Majidi. Who can forget little Amir Farrokh Hashemian as Ali and Bahare Seddiqi as Zahra in Children Of Heaven? To me Ishaan Khattar’s Aamir and Malavika Mohanan’s Tara are little Ali and Zahra after they’ve grown up. That’s my back story. Not Majid Majidi’s.
What happened to Ishaan Khattar after such rare launch?
In an interview with this writer in 2018 Ishaan said, “I never attended any acting school, though I’ve done theatre workshops a couple of times and it has been an extremely enriching experience. But beyond that, I don’t want to acquire the skills of acting and use them on camera. I’d rather learn on the job.Wasn’t Dilip Kumar Saab from a very humble background with no connection to cinema or acting? Even my director Majid Majidi came from a very humble background. He trained to be an actor and could’ve become a leading star of Iran after acting in talked-about films like ‘Boycott’. But he chose to direct films. Some of them, which are today regarded as classics, had such a meager budgets there was hardly any money for proper meals for the crew. But he stuck on. I believe it’s always important to listen to the call of your heart.I don’t think I can live a life of compromise. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to sleep properly. Not that I am getting much sleep anyway (laughs).I will do all the films that I want to do. If I like the script, I may end up doing five films at the same time, though I think that would be too much overlapping. I don’t know how actors of yesteryears managed to do three shifts every day.”
Speaking of Children Of Heaven, who can forget what the prolific Priyadarshan did to that classic when he transposed it to Bollywood as Bumm Bumm Bhole? Has Priyadarshan given Majidi Majidi a written apology for what he did to Children Of Heaven?
In Beyond The Clouds the camera pans the suffocating crowds with easy grace, embracing the bizarre bazaar of racketeering and low-living with a kind of sighing interjection that is the opposite of hopelessness. Admittedly cinematographer Anil Mehta does for Majid Majidi’s Mumbai what Subrata Mitra did to Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. Without romanticizing the despair he shoots the frames with a beam of optimism. And Dhobi Ghat never looked more intriguing.
There is a key scene of sexual violence silhouetted against the flapping white bedsheets spread out for drying. This would have looked laughably put on were it not for the director’s propensity to cut to the chase while chasing the drama of despair.Silhouettes play an important part in bringing alive the dark mysterious tragedy of Mumbai’s underbelly. At one point Aamir brings home the womenfolk of the man who has ruined his sister’s life and watches them bond through a bedsheet put up as a temporary partition. In the shadows we see three feminine figures dancing laughing bonding.
All these metaphors suggesting love lyricism and empathy on the midst of crime and deception could have given the film an aura of heavy-handedness. Majidi Majidi uses the shrillest notes of storytelling to suggest the bathos of life and the sheer absurdity of seeking and miraculously finding compassion in a world denuded of simple kindness. The message of hope and humanism shines like a beacon of light in the charged electric screenplay written by Mehran Kashani where the drama of the damned is not an affectation but a way of life. Right away from the very first shot showing a run-down hoarding for a cellphone company, Mumbai’s heartbeat throbs life and breath into every moment that Majid Majidi’s narrative exhales over frames that seem to embrace life in all its inglorious colours.
In the very first sequence, we see our hero hopping off a car in a distance across the road. Aamir is not up to any good, he never will be. Or so we think. The quality of life bequeathed to Aamir and his elder sister Tara (Malavika Mohanan) is such that beauty, harmony, compassion and other luxuries of a desirable existence are hard to obtain. And yet , this is where the humanism of Majid Majidi’s cinema comes into voluptuous play. In spite of the abject seemingly irredeemable darkness, there is that spark of light igniting the soul.
The film moves through two different narrative zones after the protagonist, siblings, are separated by a crime. Aamir finds himself looking after and caring for the family of the very man (Gautam Ghose) who brought on a disaster in his life. In prison, Aamir’s sister Tara learns a lesson on two in humanism through her unexpected bonding with a little boy. I wish Malavika Mohanan playing the pivotal role of Tara had held back a bit. She tends to let go of her emotional mojo in almost every sequence, making her character seem more hysterical than it should be.
Gautam Ghose as the man who brings disaster on the protagonists brings to his complex dark role some shades of unexpected empathy. But let’s not beat around the bush. It is debutante Ishaan Khatter who stands tall in a film where life dwarfs even the bravest. Ishaan’s Aamir is impetuous volatile and self-destructive. The character’s redemptive journey is undertaken by the debutant actor with honesty and vigour that are unmatched by anything we’ve seen in a maiden performance.
It’s a pity Ishaan has made little headway since his spectacular debut.