I’m not one to understand the finer aspects of cinema – all my perceptions are solely rooted in how a film makes me feel. A film can be artistic and can be shot with an aesthetic sense that people can only dream of; but for me, what marks a great film, is the way in which its characters resonate with you, the way in which parts of it remain with you and resurface in moments you least expect them to, and the way in which you are a different person, even if only slightly, after you have watched it.
Masaan was all of this, and more. Its characters experience all the emotions that at some point, all of us go through, but feel guilty or ashamed or embarrassed to embrace. Emotions which are so natural, and which would be so beautiful, if only we would let them thrive.
For instance, we often forget that a patriarchal society like ours doesn’t only affect its women. It affects everyone and everything. It affects a man every time he goes through a loss, and wants to grieve, because he isn’t allowed to. It’s almost as though the entire act of grieving were an anomaly that only women “entitled” to. There seem to be a set of rules to this process, and of course, different ones for each gender. Which is why we must take a moment to appreciate that Deepak sobs in pain every time he thinks of Shalu. It’s a revolt against this unwritten manual to grieving, however small, that he has a set of male friends who let him sob, instead of the dry, ineffective advice of “You need to be strong.” There is so much pain, and as much truth in Deepak’s attempt at self consolation – there is only so much pain we are equipped to deal with as human beings.
Society has also done a great job with compartmentalization of gender roles. And as if that weren’t enough – we have gone a step further to compartmentalize feelings into gender based binaries. Which is why Devi’s father is a rebel. He is a rebel who has no shame in admitting to his daughter that he needs her. He lets his emotions win as they fight the socially instilled notion that, “a true man needs no one.” (As if there were such a thing as “A True Man” in the first place) So let us applaud the rarity of an honest, vulnerable and nervous on-screen father, because I assure you, we have plenty of those off screen. And thank God we do. The fact that Deepak turns to his father for solace is such a heart-warming change when all that sons are “supposed to” ask their fathers for is career and finance related advice. It breaks the stereotypical binary of parental roles so simply, and so beautifully. That it is his father who helps him to rebuild his life, little by little, making sure that all the pieces find their place.
I have always had a problem with how we tend to compensate for our collective failure to protect our women by labeling them as heroes and symbols of courage. We tell ourselves that this is what we needed to awaken us, to stand up, and to ask for change. How convenient it is, to treat someone else’s tragedy as our inspiration. And we fail to see the greatest danger – when a rape victim or an acid attack victim or any victim fails to fit our idea of a resurrected symbol of persistence and strength, we see them as weak and unimportant, because they have not served the greater purpose of assuaging our collective guilt, or awakening our conscience. Devi, after horrific shaming from the police for having consensual sex with another man, is broken because in a matter of a few hours, her life almost completely changed. There were several times when she broke down, and that was as much a part of her healing process as was the resolution to start afresh. We need to allow women (at least) that – the freedom to choose their own coping mechanism without any judgement – positive or negative.
And then there are those seemingly trivial scenes, which in fact leave you with goosebumps. I love that in a fit of impulse Deepak makes a decision that he will regret later (throwing Shalu’s ring in the water) Because it is not in human nature to have the prudence to act otherwise. I cannot count the number of times I have based my decisions and actions on impulse rather than rationale or reason or both, and the burden of regret I still carry with me.. And it’s oddly comforting that the writer sees the naturalness of such an impulse, and its accompanying aftermath.
For all these things that Masaan almost seamlessly achieves, it’s a movie that deserves to be celebrated. And in doing so, we celebrate the myriad of emotions we tend to take for granted, or worse still, the ones we don’t let acknowledge at all.