Revisiting Neeraj Ghaywan’s Magnificent Masaan As It Completes Six Years: 'Glycerine Doesn’t Work In My Cinema'

Subhash K Jha revisits the brilliance of Masaan, as it completes six years, and its director Neeraj Ghaywan.

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Revisiting Neeraj Ghaywan’s Magnificent Masaan As It Completes Six Years: 'Glycerine Doesn’t Work In My Cinema'
Is Neeraj Ghaywan destined to be a one-film wonder? Like JD Salinger and his Catcher In The Rye. Or Margaret Mitchell in Gone With The Wind. Closer home, what happened to Shimit Amin after Chak De? He did make Rocket Singh Salesman Of The Year. But who remembers it? After the stunning Masaan, Ghaywan has made two short films - Juice (with Shefali Shah in a stellar performance as a housewife spending hours sweating in the kitchen over her husband’s guests) and more recently, Geeli Puchchi - a brilliant portrayal of gender and caste politics set in the bleak bosom of the working class.

Six years after Ghaywan made Masaan, it remains a powerful critique of gender and caste  inequality. Here are some unknown facts about this hard hitting masterpiece.

- Neeraj Ghaywan was an assistant to Anurag Kashyap before he made Masaan. There is no trace of Kashyap in Ghaywan’s style of filmmaking which is gentle and persuasive. You will never find Ghaywan becoming ill-tempered in his vision of inequality. Masaan is not an easy film to ingest. It sucks you into its world of characters doomed by caste and ruined by wrong choices. The main protagonists are played by Sanjay Mishra,Richa Chadha and Vicky Kaushal - actors whose deep link with the middle class helps them to manoeuvre their characters in and out of the trauma and anguish that the under-privileged classes are perpetually subjected to. The caste system is smacked on its head before it proceeds to smack all of us in places where it hurts the most. The young lovers played with an unspoilt naturalness by Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathy, build an atmosphere of lulling gentleness around the plot that shatters to bits as the script moves to a zone of unexpected explosion.Splintered lives shatter and mend in this penetrating portrait of lives lived on the edge Compelling and devastating, Masaan marked the remarkable directorial debut of Neeraj Ghaywan.

- Vicky Kaushal, whose journey as an actor began with Masaan was not the first choice. Rajkummar Rao was the first choice for the film.This is what Vicky told me. “The director Neeraj Ghaywan and I were both assistants on Gangs Of Wasseypur. We bonded since then and would discuss scenes from Masaan. During that time Neeraj wanted to sign Rajkummar Rao for my part. But his dates didn’t work out. That’s how I got the part.” Kaushal never expected the reactions that got for his performance in Masaan. "I knew I had worked hard. But this kind of praise was unimaginable."

- Richa Chadha as a Varanasi girl, whose life spins out of control after she’s caught in a hotel room by an extortionist cop having sex with her boyfriend, has never been seen giving a better performance. Richa said she didn’t identify with her  character of  Devi Pathak because she, Richa, was a rebel. But for a small-town woman like Devi Pathak being slut shamed for having pre-marital sex, every day is a struggle. Rebellion is a luxury affordable to the empowered .

- Sanjay Mishra, who played Richa Chadha’s economically challenged father trying to keep the blackmailing cop from slut shaming his daughter by arranging for large sums of money,lived his role. “For six months I felt like Richa Chadha’s father. Neeraj Ghaywan is a director who breathes life into every frame. I wonder why he has not made another feature film after Masaan.”

- Masaan was originally titled Fly Away Solo. Neeraj Ghaywan shot the entire film on location in Varanasi. Before shooting Neeraj and his writer Varun Grover spent a fortnight  exploring Varanasi. No actor was allowed to use glycerine in the film. Artifice doesn’t work with this director.

Image source: instagram/neeraj.ghaywan/youtube/BollyClassics/Medium