Udaan: An unconventional Bollywood at its biting best | Sunday Observer

Udaan: An unconventional Bollywood at its biting best

They’re expelled from school for watching Kanti Shah Ke Angoor, a night show in a seedy theatre.

Four of them are sent home. Of them, Rohan (new actor Rajat Barmecha), the 17-year-old sensitive writer, is sent back to his stern, unbending father who battles daily with his own demons. His father, Ronit Roy (a revelation), is an embittered man  with  two failed marriages, and a small scale steel business which  is not exactly thriving.

Dinner is taken  together everyday, but it is usually ordered from outside. There is a stepbrother, Arjun, a six-year-old who lives in dread of his iron-fisted father. And there is an uncle, a happy go lucky sort (Ram Kapoor) who  raises no voice against his elder brother.

Rohan’s father wants him to be an engineer, which is why he has to attend a college while working in the steel plant. Rohan wants to be a writer. He meets a group of boys his own age, who are also trapped in the steel city of Jamshedpur, with cruel fathers and mute suffering mothers.

Rohan is somewhat empowered among them. He takes advantage of his father’s drinking habit and slips out each night in his beaten up Contessa after stealing money from his father’s wallet.

They go drinking in cheap joints, smoke a little and  talk a lot. But there’s a huge  void  in Rohan’s life, the absence of his three friends who are now in Mumbai, working at a restaurant  which  one of them owns.

Rohan’s father believes in a life lived according to clockwork precision, from the morning run where his son has to follow him around Jamshedpur, to the evening ritual of the doorbell ringing, money being exchanged and dinner being delivered in polythene bags.

The father takes out his frustration on both boys, with his fists and his belt - he is obviously the first candidate who should be put behind bars in the new corporal punishment bill the Women and Child Development Ministry is thinking of! In fact, that’s the beauty and the bravura of Udaan. Parents are not necessarily the gods they once were. They are as flawed as children can be and more capable of visiting their traumas on their offspring.

Problem parents is a running theme in Hollywood independent cinema, especially, movies such as Running With Scissors and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. But dysfunctional families rarely make an appearance in Bollywood.

Which is why Udaan is such an extraordinary movie. Rohan doesn’t say much. He prefers to express himself through his writings. But every frame speaks of the claustrophobia he feels. From the deadly dull classes on hydraulic engineering to the hours spent watching his father sipping whisky from an ice laden glass. These are the small towns where  imagination runs free but usually gets no outlet.

These are the towns that people such as Dev D come from. That producer Anurag Kashyap comes from. And this is what they escape, to bring a whiff of real life to a Bollywood that is otherwise obsessed with its own instant classics and ravages them repeatedly.

 Barmecha is the quiet hero of this film. Whether he is sitting by the railway lines writing, or trying to hide his devastation when his father says his poems deserve no better than Grahshobha or Sarita, or trying to make his little brother talk after his father belts him.

Whether he is outrunning his father in the last scene or smashing his car, he is quite stunning. But the script is riveting. As is the music by the favourite of all coming of age directors, Amit Trivedi.

Watch it and weep. And marvel at an extraordinary story told without veering into the maudlin. It’s a tightly controlled drama without any melodrama.

Udaan, Two Thumbs Up!