Beyond The Clouds, Majid Majidi’s debut Hindi feature, undeniably throbs with energy. Surplus energy, actually — unfolding at erratic pace. The Iranian auteur cannot seem to make up his mind on what he set out to do.
Did he want to create out-and-out Bollywood masala, flooded with Hindi mainstream clichés? Or was he out to apply his trademark touch on Danny Boyle’s slum-swag, which won Oscar glory for Slumdog Millionaire? Any which way, Beyond The Clouds fails to strike a balance and falls between two stools.
The tendency to Bollywoodise his storytelling style makes Majidi’s latest his most unusual film yet, in an unintended manner perhaps. The film marks a loud makeover of style for the maestro, whose pick-of-the-shelf stock includes subtly sensitive gems as Baran, The Color Of Paradise, The Father and Children Of Heaven.
You spot little of the trademark Majidi in his latest, though there are stray similarities of ideas. Like Children Of Heaven, for instance, Beyond The Clouds is about a brother-sister duo (only, in Beyond The Clouds the siblings are young adults and not children). The sense of helpless poverty has been a pervading theme in many of Majidi’s earlier films — notably, Baran and The Song Of Sparrows.
It creates the core of his latest, too.
Photo: Screengrab/Beyond The Clouds
Perhaps Majidi was forced to temper his finer senses with Bollywood melodrama because he wanted to pass off his latest as mainstream entertainment suitable for the larger Indian market — the film’s primary box-office. Beyond The Clouds, after all, essentially caters to a market that may or may not have acquired the taste to appreciate his brand of world cinema.
Much of that market will be drawn in by the fact that the film’s debutant hero is Shahid Kapoor’s half-brother. Ishaan Khatter, as young protagonist Aamir, is impressive mainly due to the energy he pours into his role. The effort, however, seems a bit contrived on the part of Malavika Mohanan, the debutant heroine who plays Aamir’s estranged sister Taara.
Aamir, the Mumbai slum dweller, is on the run from cops and lands at Taara’s door seeking a place to hide. Taara agrees, but a chain of events leads to a violent aftermath — one that lands her in jail. The helpless siblings now wait for that one spark of hope that may change their lives for the better.
In interviews, Majidi has said he chose India as the backdrop of his new film because this country bears a cultural affinity with his homeland Iran, where he cannot make films at the moment. While human travails are uniform subjects for cinematic inspiration everywhere, Beyond The Clouds ends up more like a macro view of Mumbai from an outsider’s perspective. The effort unfolds with the aid of Anil Mehta’s visually stunning camera work and AR Rahman’s classy score, but nonetheless remains a foreigner’s take.
Majidi’s ode to the undying spirits of Mumbai’s slums somehow misses the socio-cultural impact of caste and faith that blatantly dictate that demographic. The filmmaker also avoids getting into the domain of politics, which so overwhelmingly drives crime and poverty in the slums of this country.
Rather, Beyond The Clouds sees Majidi train focus on lot of the poor. Chronicling nuances of despair has been a high point of all his works. His latest film critiques a system that punishes individuals simply because they don’t have the monetary clout to swing justice in their favour.
Beyond The Clouds is a gritty attempt highlighting a master storyteller’s restless state of mind. This is not the best of Majidi Majidi by any means, but even that is a slim cut above what we normally watch at the ’plexes.