Oscar-nominated Iranian auteur Majid Majidi, known for social realism in festival favourites such as Children of Heaven and Baran, may be travelling far from home for his latest venture, Beyond the Clouds, but his spirit of storytelling survives the jet lag.
Set in Mumbai, Beyond the Clouds follows the lives of an estranged brother-sister duo, Amir (Ishaan Khattar) and Tara (Malavika Mohanan), who are reunited when Amir, on the run from cops, runs into Tara at the dhobi ghat (riverside laundry) where she is working. The reunion doesn’t last long, however — and soon enough Tara finds herself being dragged to jail for attempted murder, the result of defending herself from her overzealous boss, Akshi (Goutam Ghose). Amir’s job is to now keep Akshi alive so he can testify in court, admitting to his lecherous ways, and save Tara from serving life in prison.
But as bleak as all this sounds, hope springs eternal. For Majidi, the lower humanity sinks, the higher the ability to bounce back. Redemption, light and love are at every corner — but as the director lets the saccharine moments flow, he also reigns them in with a steady hand on reality.
Khattar (Bollywood star Shahid Kapoor’s sibling) is impressive in his first outing. What the young actor lacks in finesse, he makes up for in earnestness, energy and rogue-ish charm. Mohanan, a South Indian actress who made her debut opposite Dulquer Salmaan in Malayalam film Pattam Pole in 2013, gets to exercise her acting chops well here and she handles the more melodramatic scenes with practised ease.
The third important character in this movie is the city of Mumbai itself. Cinematographer Anil Mehta’s (Secret Superstar, Lagaan, Veer-Zaara) lens glides, soars and dips through the jungle-like streets of Mumbai’s underbelly, while A.R. Rahman’s score gives it company. The film pays tribute to this sleepless city, like countless films have done before — Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s classic 1989 film on the underworld, Parinda; Mani Ratnam’s 1995 inter-faith love story Bombay, and more recently, Anand Gandhi’s 2013 debut film, Ship of Theseus. Beyond the Clouds stands to join this impressive list on an equal footing.
While all the film’s characters, including the rapist himself, are given their own redemptive arcs and displayed as victims of their circumstances, namely hustling within a life of abject poverty in globalised India; Beyond the Clouds also talks, with an extremely light touch, about the added pressure poverty puts on women and their safety.
Ultimately, Beyond the Clouds is a story about love, family and finding the two in unexpected places. That Majidi manages to tell this story in a country unlike his own — and tell it well — is a testament to its universal strength.
Did you know?
Beyond the Clouds was screened on the opening night of the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) at the Beach, JBR, on December 6. Director Majid Majidi was present through the screening, and spoke to fans in an informal Q&A session after.