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Movie review 'Masaan': A pulsing snapshot of life

Published Jul 25, 2015, 6:03 am IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 10:37 am IST
Masaan’s characters, defined and illuminated by little gestures, are not bursting to grab life

Cast:  Richa Chadha, Sanjay Mishra, Vicky Kaushal, Shweta Tripathi, Pankaj Tripathi, Vineet Kumar, Nikhil Sahni, Bhagwan Tiwari, Bhupesh Singh, Satya Kam Anand
Director: Neeraj Ghaywan
Rating: Three and a half stars

If life hath a sense of
humour, it be twisted, dark
and deeply tragic.

No famous person said this. I did. After watching Masaan. Writer-director Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan is that kind of film. It makes you want to say things. Things that sound profound to you. Things about life.

It makes you see beauty and meaning in incomplete stories. And it makes you want to sit down, stare at the horizon while its song, by Indian Ocean, plays in your head:
Maan kasturi re
Jag dasturi re
Baat hui na poori re

Set in the crammed, old town of Benaras that sits by Gangaji, Masaan, meaning crematorium, is about life, death, and the twists in between. Written by Grover and Ghaywan, Masaan is a drama with a gentle story arch. It’s about small but incredibly appealing people. Masaan is about Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) and his Domar family who live off cremation on Harish-chandra Ghat. Deepak, who is studying civil engineering, is in love with upper-caste Shaalu Gupta (Shweta Tripathi) who likes Nida Fazli’s shayari.


It’s about Devi Pathak (Richa Chadha) who works at a coaching centre, earning Rs 12,000. She wears dark coloured kurtas, all with lining, so that even the faint contours of her body are not visible. Masaan is also about her father, Vidyasagar Pathak (Sanjay Mishra). A former adhyapak, he now runs a small puja samagri shop on one of the many disputed ghats and does translation work.

Linked to him is little Jhonta (Nikhil Sahni). We know where he works, but we don’t know where he stays. We see him dressed up just once, when he goes to the railway station to see off his Didi. Vidyasagar and Jhonta’s relationship is of father-son, of employer-employee. It’s both, but it’s more.   Masaan is also about Piyush Agarwal, a student from Allahabad, and how a single, consensual, rather exciting encounter, much planned and practiced in two heads, can change lives. Forever.


Masaan is also about that other masaan, the other crematorium and the real Dom Raja — Inspector Mishra (Bhagwan Tiwari). A corrupt and exploitative cop, he lives off the dead and the living. The film is also about the gentle, sweet Safhya Ji (Pankaj Tripathi), Devi’s colleague, who heals her and helps her embrace herself again. Masaan is about two love stories. How each one ends. Cruelly. And how new ones may begin, inexplicably.

Masaan is beautifully written in all its aspects — story, characters, dialogue, songs. And all together give us a pulsating snapshot of life. Shot mostly on location in the small town of Benaras, cinematographer Avinash Arun Dhaware very intelligently uses Gangaji, the film’s protagonist, to lend the film and the people it’s about an expansiveness — of life, and its possibilities.


Its characters, defined and illuminated by little gestures, are not bursting to grab life. In fact, their fates seem sealed. But they are all gently coaxing life, one sweep of an oar at a time, to let them go, to set them free. Superb writing is complimented by fantastic performances and Indian Ocean’s music.

Richa Chadha is almost frugal in her expressions. Precise, controlled and powerful, she creates a character with very little. We don’t know her Devi very well, but we can feel her in every single scene — her seething and bristling seeps into our bones. Masaan has won some big awards. All very well deserved.