Director: Majid Majidi
Iranian master Majid Majidi, whose Oscar-nominated film, 1997’s Children of Heaven, remains one of the most affecting stories about sibling love and the innocence of children, uses the bustling landscape of Mumbai as the setting for his new film Beyond The Clouds. This is a moving redemption saga about a poor brother and sister faced with difficult circumstances, but the predictable plotting robs the film of any surprise.
Ishaan Khatter stars as Amir, a street-smart fellow who works as a drug runner, whizzing about in the Mumbai traffic making discreet deliveries, even as he nurses dreams of saving enough cash to make a better life someday. When he runs afoul of his employer, it leads to a chain of events that culminates with his sister Tara (Malavika Mohanan) being thrown into jail for nearly killing a man who tries to rape her.
Clearly fascinated by the sights and sounds and smells of Maximum City, Majidi and cinematographer Anil Mehta serve up an evocative tableau that is at once familiar yet unmistakably ‘exotic’ – a foot chase through Dhobhi Ghat, a fight scene in the flamingo-occupied mudflats along Sewri jetty, a sweet moment involving an innocent child in a Kamathipura brothel, and Holi being celebrated on the streets…all set to A R Rahman’s mostly familiar score.
Like his strongest films, Beyond The Clouds works best when Majidi puts children on the screen. Tara’s bond with a little boy whose ailing mother shares the jail cell with her is genuinely tender, and Amir’s tentative relationship with a family he is saddled with yields some of the film’s most touching moments.
The film’s overarching themes – the importance of compassion in an unforgiving world, and family being what you make of it – are noble but simplistic, and are communicated in broad strokes. All cinema is manipulative, but Beyond The Clouds is sentimental to a fault, practically choking the lump out of your throat. It doesn’t help that the story beats are entirely predictable; you know exactly what choices the characters will make, and how things will pan out in the end.
Luckily for us, the film packs consistently strong performances, especially from Ishaan Khattar whom the camera clearly loves. He reveals reserves of both confidence and vulnerability, allowing us to be invested in Amir from early on. My other favorite is veteran actress GV Sharada who plays the aged mother of a key character, and who enters Amir’s orbit representing conflict. She delivers a mostly quiet but deeply sensitive performance that breaks your heart.
Ultimately the film offers comfort in the familiar…for those that seek it. It’s Majid Majidi-lite at best; a bittersweet, inoffensive drama that runs, but never flies. I’m going with a generous three out of five.