“You will address me as Sir. You will not raise your voice at me and you will keep your head down when you talk to me. From tomorrow onwards, you will go to the steel factory to work and in the afternoon you will go to college to study engineering. Your poems and stories can go to hell. That won’t put food on the table. Your feet better be firmly planted on earth and you can forget about flying. Do you understand? If you disobey me, I will slit your throat,” said a father to his 17-year-old son (I am paraphrasing but the essence is definitely correct, especially the “slit your throat” part).
The father (Ronit Roy) is an alcoholic, abusive, authoritarian. He is the worst type of father – he never thinks he is wrong, he will put you down in your place, make you feel like a lump of dog poo and perhaps his worst trait is that he is the ultimate crusher of dreams. Rohan (Rajat Barmecha) has been in boarding school for 8 years and has not seen his father in all that time. Because he was caught watching a dirty film with his pals, all of them are expelled. Everybody went back to their wealthy parents while Rohan returns to the small industrial town of Jamshedpur to his absentee father and he also discovers that he has a younger half brother, Arjun (Aayan Boradia) whom he didn’t even know existed.
This is hands down one of the best coming-of-age films I had the pleasure of watching. It’s such a simple story but that’s not it’s fault; It’s its strength. How do you tell a cliché story in such a refreshing way that it becomes connected to your entire being? You draw your characters well is the first thing you have to do. The 3 characters are amazingly drawn… the father you want to ‘kill’ but yet he is at times depicted with a caring heart. As soon as it rears its head, it disappears and replaces it with venom. The father is a victim too, but of his own volition. Rohan is fascinatingly portrayed. All through the film I kept thinking why doesn’t he leave, but then I realise he is still a teenager at heart. He has fear in him… he is perhaps thinking that if he obeys his father’s commands he will finally have a chance at being a writer. I was captivated by his growth, his maturity growing at every minute, his physical strength manifesting in the final sprint. The film could have been just a study of a father and son relationship but the writers wrote in another amazing character in Arjun. I can now see that the film wouldn’t have been transcending without the innocent boy at the crux of becoming the abusive father. Through Arjun and Rohan, the final denoucement was truly cathartic – I have lived a lifetime through them.
There are no redundant scenes in Udaan. Vikramaditya Motwane in his debut film has removed every fat, every emotional manipulative flourish. The plot is lean and brutally realistic and frightfully honest. The narrative is never dumbed down, over-explained or screamed overtly into your face. It respects that you are an intelligent person and lets you connect the dots. I love that because only a confident craftsman will do that. There’s no needless romance; a girl to talk sense into Rohan. That is a very brave thing to do in this genre or in any genre especially in Bollywood. This is a story about boys becoming man, period.
I love the subtlety and quiet beauty – like the train journey from the boarding school to the industrial town – from paradise to hellhole. I love how Rohan wears this t-shirt that says “Love Happiness” then at a certain point when he sits down it seems to shout “Lose Happiness”. I love the poems and stories that Rohan tells throughout the film – they stem from his reality, they are his escapism. I love how the father is framed – through fences, over walls and through barbed wires. What kind of storyteller does so much to compose his shots and to carefully plant metaphors? A true artisan… By the time the final denoucement arrives… my heart was pumping for joy… I want Rohan to run… run faster… run towards his friends… run to his future… run to his dreams. I want him to fly out of the cage!
PS – It was his brilliant sophomore film Lootera that made me seek out his debut film. Actually, compared to Udaan, Lootera feels like a step backwards for him. But any which way, I will be following Vikramaditya Motwane’s career from now on. This dude makes films that doesn’t have any Bollywood flavour in them and they transcend so many levels.
The songs in Udaan are really good but I feel it’s a disservice to post them with no context and the English lyrics. So the trailer will suffice.