By: Sameer Anwar
Kindness is a humanitarian language. Majid Majidi’s latest film (and first movie in Hindi) Beyond the Clouds, explores how kindness trumps in times when our humanity is most tested.
Amir (Ishaan Khatter), a poor orphaned child, delivers drugs in the slums of Mumbai. An unfortunate police raid reunites him with his estranged and only sibling Tara (Malavika Mohanan), who helps him conceal the drugs at Dhobi Ghaat, where Tara works. While retrieving the drugs, Tara is assaulted by her colleague Akshi (Gautam Ghose) and in an attempt to defend herself she injures him. This lands Tara in jail and Akshi in the ICU. The rest of the movie is the story of Amir’s mission to keep Akshi alive so that his testimony can set Tara free.
Acts of kindness play throughout the movie. Amir, despite his complex relationship with Tara (Malavika Mohanan), is tirelessly working to get his sister out of jail. Tara befriends her ailing inmate’s child Chotu, while Amir finds himself facing sheltering and protecting Akshi’s family. These powerful choices made by the protagonists show that when given the choice, Majidi’s characters choose not to ignore those in pain.
The strength of the movie is in the visuals. Reminiscent of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, the frames are realistic and take us through Mumbai’s slums. Many of the scenes seem to be single shots and push you towards the edge of your seat, in particular the early police chase through Mumbai’s Dhobi Ghaat. However, just like Slumdog Millionaire, the viewer is left without much diversity in views of the city except for its raw crime and drug infested pockets.
Kudos to Majidi on the art of story-telling through the use of shadows. This is most noticeable in the scenes where Tara is assaulted and when Amir is trying to cheer up Akshi’s youngest daughter. Both these scenes, poles apart in their moods, manage to draw out strong emotions with simple story telling mastery.
Ishaan Khatter, makes a convincing debut, as he strikes the balance between youthful raw arrogance and the hopelessness his life presents. While an overall strong delivery, his relatively upscale English accent does not do justice to Amir’s background.
Malavika Mohanan’s performance is real and gritty; albeit, sometimes showing her lack of experience as an actor in the second half. Chotu, the little child growing up in jail, is one of the best child actors I have seen in recent cinema and emerges as a scene-stealer.
While beautifully told, the story is predictable, as are the choices that the characters make. This makes it frustrating as the viewers sympathize with the characters, but not the story.
AR Rehman’s soothing soundtrack moves the story along, even if it is a bit too upbeat at times.
The movie ends on a note that leaves much to the viewer’s imagination. There are many possibilities, but what is certain is that the characters despite their shackles, have found peace through kindness.
We give this film 3.5 stars out of 5 (an extra 0.5 for Anil Mehta’s remarkable cinematography!)