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Fly high

Udaan is being pushed by its makers as a coming-of-age tale of the protagonist who turns 18 in the film. But actually it’s not. Vikramaditya Motwane’s first film is a story of self-realisation, of a boy finding the mental (and physical) strength to actualise a dream born even before the opening credits have dissolved in and out.

Rohan (Rajat Barmecha) writes poems. He’s been writing them for as long as he can remember. You don’t have to tell him twice… he reads them out to you. And if you are like one of his boarding school friends, he double checks: “Samajh mein aaya?” But he himself does clearly understand that his dream of becoming a writer may not wield the wings to fly.

In a brilliant opening sequence, Rohan and his friends jump hostel walls and run to a seedy neighbourhood theatre to catch a soft porn film. They are caught and expelled from school straightaway. That’s okay, the brats saw it coming. You sit up in your chair only when the principal mutters below his breath: “Sorry Rohan!”

Because he knows that Rohan would have to go back to a man who he had last met eight years back, when he was eight. To a man who insists on being called “Sir” even though he is his father (Ronit Roy). To a man who had married in the interim and fathered another child.

The next long act of Udaan is about how Rohan shifts to his Jamshedpur home but never settles down. He runs around the steel town every morning, trying to keep pace with Sir, he slowly warms up to his equally helpless step brother Arjun (Aayan Boradia), finds surprise support from his uncle (Ram Kapoor) and even sneaks off in the old family car in the middle of the night to drink and smoke with his new-found friends. But Rohan never settles down.

It is this spirit, restless yet unflappable, which is the magic soul of Udaan. Much like the film itself which struggled to find funding for many years before it was made and only became hot property after the Cannes call-up. Kudos to Motwane and co-writer and producer Anurag Kashyap that they chose not to take an easier way out because Udaan’s charm lies in its uncompromised making, in its independent heart.

Take the meticulous pacing for example. The film is slow enough not to rush you and fast enough not to rock you to distraction. The boarding school trunk is dragged up the stairs, one step at a time. The cut just doesn’t come. But you soon realise that the frame overstays only because it wants you to feel the extra weight on Rohan’s mind as he enters the lost world.

The casting is a bit of genius. Rajat Barmecha has a very neutral face and two very still eyes that are exploited to the hilt by Motwane. The boy not only brings freshness and spontaneity to the enterprise but helps Udaan become an exercise in minimalism. His emotions are so muted, his expressions so understated that his journey is not reduced to a melodramatic drag but a buoyant flight.

And who knew Ronit Roy had this in him? The man, who crash-landed in stardom with Jaan Tere Naam and then vanished only to resurface as a loud soap star, gives the performance of a lifetime as the father who has his reasons. He makes you feel for him at a juncture in the film when not many would bet on his point of view.

The underrated Ram Kapoor is excellent and the little kid Aayan is endearing, with not a false stare in sight.

Cinematographer Mahendra Shetty gives a graphic spin to Jamshedpur and his lighting scheme stays away from all the usual visual clichés to give the film a very novel look. Only the music is a touch too loud for a quiet film like Udaan. There’s nothing wrong with Amit Trivedi’s soundtrack, just that the euphoric musical outbursts sound a touch out of place.

You absolutely must watch Udaan. For every rupee you have wasted on big, bad Bolly noise, you must back this beautiful and brave voice. For all the Kites you have been grounded by, you deserve an Udaan. It’s time.

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