Udaan was the first Indian film in seven years to be selected for the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at the Cannes Film Festival, and also won the Best Audience Award and Best Music Score at the Giffoni Film Festival. Sadly the film didn’t have a cinematic release in Australia, which is unfortunate as I think it is the best Hindi film I have seen so far this year. Overall Udaan is a simple story brilliantly told with some fantastic performances by the young and inexperienced leads.
Rohan is a seventeen year old who has been at boarding school in Shimla for 8 years. In that time he has not been home, nor has his father or any of his family visited him. His friends are his surrogate family and they follow the ‘all for one and one for all’ motto. Their various escapades, including a late night trip out to see am adult movie, result in their expulsion from the school and Rohan has to finally return home to Jamshedpur. His father barely acknowledges his arrival at the train station, not speaking a word, and leaves Rohan to drag his trunk across the platform and up the stairs into their flat by himself.
Once home, Rohan finds that while he was at school his father had married again and he has a six-year-old step-brother Arjun. The relationship between them is off to a bad start as neither knows of the others existence, and as the bigger and older brother, Rohan totally pushes Arjun aside.
Rohan’s relationship with his father, never a happy one, deteriorates further as Bhairav Singh decrees that Rohan will work in his factory in the morning and attend engineering college in the afternoon. Rohan wants to be a writer, and throughout the film we hear his poems and stories. When he is looking after his step-brother in hospital, everyone crowds around to hear his stories, so we believe that he really would be able to make it as a writer despite his young age. Engineering however is not his calling and he struggles continually. He tries to be the son his father wanted and perseveres with his studies, but he is only seventeen and the lure of his writing is too strong to be ignored. He skips school to sit in the fields and write, so inevitably fails his courses.
His father is an authoritarian bully, an alcoholic, and is determined that his son will follow in his footsteps and take over the foundry. He is continually disappointed by Rohan’s seeming failures and physically and verbally abuses him. He also forces Rohan to run and train with him daily, trying to mould him into the man he wants him to become. His treatment of his younger son is equally appalling and results in the two step-brothers finding some common ground. Bhairav has a younger brother, Jimmy who has a happy but childless marriage, and he becomes an ally for Rohan in his attempts to get his father to accept his writing. But Jimmy has issues of his own with his brother and cannot stand up to him when it comes to the two boys. Rohan rebels by stealing his father’s car and heading off to the bars in Jamshedpur where he goes drinking with some new friends. Rohan has to decide if he will stay, become an engineer and end up like his father, or leave to try to realise his ambition. As his step-brothers fate also seems to lie in his hands, this is not an easy decision to make.
For me, the film works so well because Rohan’s dilemma is very realistically portrayed. Like most of us, he wants his father to approve of him and he tries very hard to win this approval. He can remember how much his mother loved him, and is desperate for some feeling from his father. Rohan’s rebellions seem very typical of a teenager, and his reaction to his step-brother rings true. The issues of alcoholism and abuse are dealt with in a very matter of fact way. There is no attempt by director Vikramaditya Motwane to either sensationalise or underplay the brutality and cruelty in the relationships between Rohan, Arjun and their father. The harsh reality of the story is allowed to speak for itself and it is to the director’s credit that the film is such a moving and poignant story.
The performances by Rajat Barmecha as Rohan and Aayan Boradia as Arjun are extraordinary. Both are flawless in their roles and we really feel the developing relationship between them. For such young and inexperienced actors they have given truly excellent performances. The experienced actors also can be credited with some very good acting. Ronit Roy is fantastic as Rohan’s father, Bhairav Singh. He keeps his expressions grim when dealing with his sons and while at work, but is animated, smiling and laughing with his friends. His alcoholism is always hidden from the rest of the world and he keeps his treatment of his sons an equally well guarded secret. Ronit Roy manages to convey so much of his character through these basic themes and with minimal changes in his expressions. Ram Kapoor also does a great job with his role as Jimmy. He manages to make his character affable and ineffectual with some nicely underplayed acting.
The film has plenty of symbolism, which gives it a very European feel. The school as Shimla is set in the forest, and the transition on the train to the industrial sights of Jamshedpur makes a sharp contrast. Shots of Rohan’s father are often framed by the barbed wire fence surrounding their home, and his scenes are often dark and heavy in feeling. My favourite of these moments is probably Rohan’s T-shirt which states Love Happiness, but when he sits down it folds to read Lose Happiness. An excellent find by the wardrobe department! The music by Amit Trevedi won an award at the Giffoni Film Festival and is beautiful and haunting. Although often part of the background, a number of the songs also serve to move the film forward and are very well placed to do this. The last song is just perfect and a lovely memorable end to the film.
There is nothing to find fault with in Udaan. The screenplay by Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap is excellent, and the dialogue, going by my basic Hindi and the subtitles, seems appropriate for the story. A sad film, but one which touches the heart and I totally loved it. 5 stars. Heather