Most of the comings of age melodramas originating from Indian cinema have tended to have any emotional discourse corrupted by all manners of cinematic hyperbole. This gamut of unpleasant exaggerations have included parents as one dimensional caricatures, the urgency to equate adolescence with sexuality – resulting in the traditional and deliberately overplayed falling in love scenario which leads to an illogical series of song and dance sequences, the need to overpopulate complex emotional situations with too many characters, the derisory notion that comic relief is enough of a presence to sustain the argument for entertainment value and lastly and most importantly, the financially motivated presence of stars who bring with them potentially disruptive star baggage and connotations. Like Ishqiya, Udaan is yet another directorial debut and it is surprisingly assured in many ways. The director Vikramaditya Motwa has worked previously before as a scriptwriter and assistant to both Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Anurag Kashyap who also shares a credit as producer and co-writer. Whilst songs are included, they are not signposted in any particular way except for perhaps the final one which is when the film suddenly spills over into sentimental celebrations. Udaan is a coming of age film, thankfully rejecting many of the traits I have outlined above and allowing the narrative to deal strictly with the intelligently depicted relationship between Rohan, a teenage boy, and his abusive and controlling father. When Rohan is expelled from a prestigious boarding school in Simla, his return back home leads him on a journey to discover what exactly he wants from life. At first Rohan’s father comes across as the typical patriarchal disciplinarian with a fixation for rules and authority but their fractured relationship eventually reveals a man who cannot love anymore and who views his two son’s as a burden rather than a lifelong embrace.
It’s not hard to determine what exactly makes Udaan work well as a film – a good, solid script with strong characterisation. If we were to come across a character like Rohan, played brilliantly by the relative newcomer Rajat Barmecha, in another mainstream Indian film then he would be lacking the inner life and psychological depth needed for us to experience and attempt to understand the confusions brought upon by adolescence. Additionally, by giving Rohan aspirations to become a writer, it gives the film an added literary weight and makes the conflict between arts and engineering much more charged, thus constructing a kind of battleground on which we witness an ideological clash between the values of tradition and the iconoclast reverberations of youthful creation. Critically Udaan was well received upon its release and has won many awards though most of those are invalidated by the sheer sham of Indian film award events and ceremonies. Whilst Rajat Barmecha is the main lead and gives a compelling performance, he is equally well supported by two of India’s most prominent TV actors – Ronit Roy and Ram Kapoor. I think this was a wise casting decision because star baggage would have simply distracted from the thoughtful narrative and characterisation. Udaan is a fantastic youth film with a universal morality at work; it’s hard not to like.
One thought on “UDAAN / FLIGHT (Dir. Vikramaditya Motwa, 2010, India) – Breaking Away”
Well said, Omar. I too watched the film thanks to the positive buzz, even ripples, that Udaan had created among lovers of serious and good cinema, and suffice it to say, I was quite happy that I didn't let this one slip through my fingers.
The first paragraph, where you've given a thumbs down to the insincerity of mainstream Bollywood cinema, is what I too have been saying a lot to my friends who love mainstream Hindi cinema. These surely are some of the points that make me too stay away from most of the star-studded commercial bonanzas that are often a disgrace to this artform called cinema.
But not Udaan. A compact, emotionally charged (but rarely melodramatic) film, based on a fine script, and studded with some really good performances, it sure was a good watch. And yes, as you aptly mentioned, the tussle between engineering & arts, that forms a vital thematic thread for the story, is such an important angle in urban Indian life too.