Direction: Majid Majidi Produced by: Zee Studios, Namah Pictures Cast: Ishaan Khattar, Malavika Mohanan, Gautam Ghose, GV Sharada, Amruta Santosh Thakur Cinematography: Anil Mehta;
Editing: Hassan Hassandost Music: A R Rahman
Hindi / Drama, Family / 122 Mins / India / 2018
Anil Mehta’s cinematography is something you do not even notice when you sit down to watch a film. He keeps it simple, keeps himself out of the frames, loves to be invisible and yet has a stupendous and diverse filmography to show for his efforts! Think Lagaan, Badlapur, Highway, Khamoshi – The Musical, Saathiya, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Finding Fanny, Wake Up Sid, Cocktail and more… so much more. He is not someone whose work will predominate that of the filmmaker and yet it is not something you can bypass either, unless you are watching one of his films of course! A 1986 graduate of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) Pune, Mehta is considered a school by himself today – say lovers and students of cinematography alike.
But why have I begun talking about Mehta prior to speaking of Beyond the Clouds with which celebrated Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi makes his Hindi film debut? Because its Mehta’s cinematography in the film which walks away with the top honours; Because it is Mehta’s camera work (which while lifting an ordinary tale of a brother and sister mired in life and caught up in its vagaries) which becomes a character and, because a multi starrer can mean a lot of things – not just a great star cast!
Mehta sets the pace of the film with the opening sequence itself when he follows a young lad and his best friend zip around Mumbai on their bike making various stopovers. And then follows up with fast paced action across locations after a quiet, almost insignificant stopover at a brothel. It is this juxtaposition of speed with quietude that puts Beyond the Clouds in sharp contrast to the films that are Majid Majidi’s hallmark – contemplative, introspective and universal.
To that extent Beyond the Clouds is less Majidi and more Hindi film and Mehta’s style caters to that thought. His lighting, shots, deep saturated brown tones and sheer depth even while shooting indoors add to the drama of the narrative. The narrative adopts Mumbai as its own baby and lets it flower over the next two hours. Be it brothels, slums, abandoned mills, celebrated dhobi ghats – which are almost a touristy attraction now and as Mumbaiya as the dabbawala, wetland patches of Sewri and Uran, docks and the mandatory local trains.
It is against this backdrop that the story of brother sister duo Amir and Tara (brilliantly by essayed by debutants Ishaan Khattar and supported ably by Malavika Mohanan) plays out. Post a drug bust, Amir is on the run from the cops even as sister gets picked up for attempt to murder Akshi, a man (Gautam Ghose) who is trying to force himself on her. And then comes life which charts its own course even as the two try to come to terms with their topsy-turvy circumstances. Ironically enough, Amir ends up sheltering Akshi’s family comprising his mother (G V Sharada) and two young daughters as all of them wait for him to recover, because it is Akshi’s testimony which will get Tara out of jail.
For all that this is Khattar’s debut he comes across as a natural and a veteran commanding every single scene, exploiting its potential to the utmost. Whether it is reluctantly keeping alive the man whom he hates; making promises to his sister that he will take her out of jail or tending to the family that he is sheltering, Khattar does not falter. He seems to have surrendered his self to Majidi – so fluid and effortless is his performance.
Staying true to form, Majidi draws out the same effortless performances from the child artists in the film – Chotu who plays Tannishtha Chatterjee’s son and Aisha - Akshi’s younger child. He has a way with children, Majidi does and that’s where his cinema has found its niché.
Still, Beyond the Clouds fails to live up to his own benchmarks like ‘Children of Heaven’, ‘Color of Paradise’ or even ‘Baduk’ - two of which revolve around the bonds that siblings share. But there are moments – albeit a very few which only a Majidi could have thought of and captured. For instance when Amir does a shadow dance to put the little girls at ease; when he brings them crayons and helps them colour the walls of Tara’s home in bright, beautiful scenery; when they all endearingly perform for each other in front of the wall; the scene in jail where a shy Chotu is yearning to take his new toy car from Tara but is too shy to step forward; or where he sits facing a hole in the wall waiting to play with his friend – a mouse; or the last shot of the film where the camera captures Tara’s and Chotu’s outstretched hands from behind a partially open door, almost as though they are looking for life and rebirth and are yearning for release.
Beyond the Clouds brought the Iranian filmmaker to Mumbai but then Mumbai adopted him – so much so that he had to leave his kind of cinema behind to capture the drama here. And Mehta and Khattar are the face of that drama. Watch the film for them!