Majidi's debut is an indulgence in Bombay

Film: Beyond the Clouds

Rating: ***

Director: Majid Majidi

Cast: Ishaan Khatter, Malavika Mohanan

While Beyond the Clouds, Iranian auteur Majid Majidi's debut in Indian cinema is impressive by Bollywood standards, compared to his earlier films or that of his mentor Satyajit Ray, it falls very short.

The story is about a young drug-peddler Amir (Ishaan), a short-tempered, funky guy ready to break into a dance at the drop of a hat and his sister Tara (Malavika), who is sent to jail for attacking a man while trying to defend herself from his desperate sexual advances.

But plot is not Majidi's top priority; it's the relationships that people develop in due course. While Tara develops a bond with a child inside the jail, Amir meets the family of her attacker. While Malavika's performance is strong and convincing, Ishaan's is also very mature for his age.

Beyond the Clouds reminds one of Bombay films such as Salaam Bombay and Dhobi Ghat. Majidi's take on the underbelly of the city, however, is not as raw. He adds a generous amount of sentimentality to dilute whatever may be unpleasant about it.

Anil Mehta's camera is not fixated on the film's characters. Majidi's delight in shooting Mumbai is evident in the many scenes where the camera looks down upon the bright hues of the city like a god.

He also explores the city by setting the camera in mid-shot and letting the characters (mostly Amir) disappear from the frame only to unexpectedly pop up from elsewhere.

Majidi is sensitive not only to the visuals of the city, but also its sounds. The rows of bedsheets in Dhobi ghat for instance provide a daunting rustling that sets the mood for Tara's crime. 

A R Rahman's music, while for the most part does not make much of an impact, has its moments. Bollywood has set ideas of what score to apply where.

So, it was refreshing to see a chase scene complimented by a rendition of tabla and as the scene intensifies, a sitar joins in, reminding one of Ray's aesthetic.

Ray's fans may be able to see more of him in the film. The use of shadows is reminiscent of Pather Panchali (1955), while the pestering family you can't shake off is a shadow of Ashani Sanket (1973).

Beyond the Clouds is not Majidi at the top of his game, but it is a pleasant watch, if one ignores the long-winding plot and the many pockets of syrupy emotions.

Roshan H Nair

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