Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi (Children of Heaven, Baran) brings a sibling relationship story to the streets of Mumbai. Childhood tragedy and adulthood mistakes leave a brother and sister to survive as best as they can. In the quest to keep their head above water, certain decisions, wrong turns and misjudgements lead them into dark spaces. But just when you think all hope is lost, the universe drops a most unexpected lifeline.
Amir (Ishaan Khatter) is a street-smart drug peddler. His sister Tara (Malavika Mohanan), who works multiple streams to earn a living, is imprisoned for attempted murder. The victim, Akshi (Goutam Ghose) lies in a hospital bed. His death will certainly mean life imprisonment for Tara and his testimony could get her acquitted. Amir is devastated that his only person he can call family is in this predicament. Here is a character full of bravado and bluster, but who achieves very little. His decisions are largely questionable – antagonising the patient, making a deal with the devil etc.
There is an easy offer of redemption delivered to both Amir and Tara and this is the soulful part of a rhythmically uneven narrative. The opening scene itself is incongruous with the rest of the film – Amir and his friend ride around the city on a bike, weaving in and out of crowded streets while making drops. They end up in a garage and dance on cars, like John Travolta and his gang did in the 1978 hit movie Grease. That’s the only time we see this tonal inflection.
AR Rahman’s music is equally imbalanced. The character’s diction and speech also do not match their environment – instead of street slang, they speak in complete, pure and grammatically well-formed Hindi sentences (dialogue by Vishal Bhardwaj).
Anil Mehta’s cinematography brings a layer of intensity and captures the by-lanes and grittiness of the city. Majidi’s effort to spotlight how children, especially those born in poverty, are often the blameless and luckless victims of the legal system is tripped up by its blatancy. One child is growing up within a prison while others are coping with the outcome of a dead parent.
Ghose manages to overact even as he lies still and voiceless in a hospital bed. As the grandmother protecting her two granddaughters, Sharada’s performance is full of pathos. Khatter chips in with all his might. An energetic and physically immersed performance compensates partially for an absence of tenor. Mohanan too cannot overcome her rawness and one wonders if this is a fallout of the director’s inability to breach the language barrier.
Together their effort might be sincere but the effect of a lack of cohesion eschews the very emotional seriousness Beyond the Clouds works so hard to achieve.
CAST: Ishaan Khatter, Malavika Mohanan, Gautam Ghose, GV Sharada
DIRECTION: Majid Majidi