Beyond The Clouds: Ishaan Khattar and Malavika Mohanan debut with touchstone performances

There were moments in Majid Majidi’s Beyond The Clouds when I was torn with despair, and in others, I was full of hope. That’s what Majidi does. He wants you to fluctuate between hope and despair so that you know what both are, and choose for yourself, perhaps, what you want.

Amir (Ishaan Khattar) and Tara (Malavika Mohanan) are siblings, who we are told haven’t been on good terms. But a certain tragedy brings them together and now Tara is in jail, while Amir tries to free her. The narrative runs between these two parallels, Tara’s life in prison, full of atrocities, and Amir’s life outside of it, full of struggle. And yet, there is hope. There will come a day when this dry earth will receive rain.

Majidi’s story is not revolutionary. But the way he tells it, is. He tells it, perhaps, how a novel is read out aloud. With a proper description of everything, the setting, characters, tonality. And the best thing about his way of story telling is that he shows us a novel instead of telling it to adhere to the nature of films. What stands out the most is his attention to detail, particularly in the characters he draws. It perhaps seems like he first made a painting of Tara and Amir and even the old woman living in Tara’s house, and then sculpted them to perfection.

What Majidi also uses, and what most Indian directors usually lack, are literary devices. While there definitely are filmmakers who use these devices, Majidi takes it a step ahead, specially with his level of paradox and symbolism.

Silhouettes play a very important role in this film. Whether it is of a bird or butterfly made out of hand gestures or of human figures, they’re all so symbolic. In one scene, Amir sees on a sheet of cloth, that acts like a makeshift curtain-cum-partition between two rooms, two young girls and their old grandmother playing and fooling around. Maybe he sees Tara and himself in these children, playing around. Maybe he just sees their happiness in the moment. Who knows!

While Tara is in jail, she befriends Tannishtha Chatterjee’s son, Chotu, who teaches Tara a thing or two about life. When Chatterjee’s character dies, Tara comforts Chotu and says that he can find his mother by just looking at the moon, exactly how Khattar’s Amir does. What Chotu says next, broke my heart. This little kid, who’s been in jail since he was 3 months old, says “Chand kya hota hai?” Chotu is also Majidi’s symbol of humanism like many other characters (Asha and Tanisha among others).

But in this film, Majidi is not the sole hero. His story and characters aren’t the only things that make the film what it is. A director so devoid of the language in which the characters speak as a whole, could have gone terribly wrong without the screenplay by Mehran Kashani and dialogues by Vishal Bharadwaj. And what adds the most to the film are the performances by Malavika Mohanan and Ishaan Khattar.

I did hope at moments that Mohanan would not overdo certain scenes, and would let go of Tara’s melodramatic self at some point, but I am not complaining. Tara is a composed woman at first, an inspiration against Amir, and in one moment she becomes fragile. Tara’s life in prison is horrible, and we are shown the horrors that she experiences and why she must cling on to the little hope she has; why she must wait for the moon to shine. Her only solace here is Chotu, who chases her all around with a rat in his hand. That is her ray of hope, her happiness in agony. And Mohanan plays this character with greatness.

The person stealing the show here, however, is Ishaan Khattar. Like Amir, who wants to be a ‘bada aadmi’ and who knows that there will come a better day, Khattar also aims for the same. He doesn’t shy away one bit from doing whatever his director wants him to do and brings out Amir’s love for the family of the man who ruined Tara’s (and his) life, so beautifully. The family is, perhaps, his Chotu; his ray of moonlight. There is a particular scene when Amir knows that he’s going to do some wrong and arriving to a compromise for Tanisha’s life – in just one moment, you can see the pain and reluctance in Khattar’s eyes that is so deep that it hurts. And even though no dialogue follows, I could hear him saying something like “Ek Tara ko bachane ke lie doosri Tara ko dao pe laga raha hu” in rhetoric.

An added bonus is AR Rahman’s background score. Just when you feel exhausted because of the pain of Tara and Amir’s lives, a piano plays in the background and you’re sent back to your calm. Cinematographer Anil Mehta does wonders for Majidi. It’s not tough to capture the essence of a city but what’s tough is to do this while not letting go of the essence of the characters and the colours of hope and despair. There’s a lot that Majidi wants Mehta to show at once and Mehta just knows his craft too well.

My favourite scene in the film is the ending. You just cannot ask for a better one, it is that perfect. Perhaps it is, one of the best endings I’ve seen in a long long time. Even though there is a conclusion to the story but Majidi leave just that bit hanging. It’s upto you, and what you believe more in – hope and humanism or despair and cruelty – that makes you analyse the ending and eventually the film.

All in all, Ishaan Khattar is already the superstar of tomorrow and so is Malavika Mohanan. In Majid Majidi’s almost perfect film, they deliver touchstone debut performances that say “if you have a debut, it should be like this”.

If I had to rate the film, I don’t believe in giving stars but if I did, I know I’d give this film a full five!

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