Take that chase scene in Slumdog Millionaire. In two minutes, Danny Boyle managed to capture so many details of Mumbai slums without making them look too dramatic on screen, while being ably aided by AR Rahman’s synthetic upbeat score. Majidi on the other hand takes a visually dramatic approach in ‘Beyond the Clouds’ to a chase scene that he too shot for approximately the same length of time. Here too cops are chasing. Not young children, but two spunky adult/teenage boys.
Before you go watch ‘Beyond the Clouds’, I am sure there is an uncomfortable parallel running in your mind. A foreign director, making a movie based out of Mumbai slums, etc. etc. The unavoidable comparison with Slumdog Millionaire even before you watch this movie. Majid Majidi, the master director who excels in making sensitive stories of kids and in weaving poverty tales through the lens of social injustices, puts you at rest within the first 5 minutes that this movie is nothing like SDM. In fact, he also convinces the movie audience who are familiar with his previous works, that even though this too is a sibling story (just like Children of Heaven), he has a completely different turf he is playing with.
Amir (Ishaan Khatter), a vibrant boy, who has grown up seeing the struggles of poverty, is a drug peddler among other things. He is not afraid of vocally seeking his place in the criminal food chain and has a heart that is vulnerable. Tara (Malavika Mohanan), his elder sister has a slightly deeper side to her. She has been abused, thrown out, and has been pushed to the darkest corners of the slum life, as a woman.
Beyond the Clouds, in simple terms, is really a story about the psychological struggle between these two siblings as they battle their own good and evil sides, their own light and dark sides, and their place in this insane society, a society that has no structure for people at the deep end of the economic spectrum, so that they can at least accept life as it is being offered to them.
Amir, a criminal (by law) ends up outside, while he watches the mental spiraling down of his innocent sister who, as circumstance would have it, ends up in jail for a crime that she may have committed only to save herself. Tara ends up forming an unusual bond with a little boy inside the prison. While Amir ends up forming an unusual bond with the family of the man Tara attacked. The interconnectivity of how each character tries to redeem itself by latching onto the relationships that life offers and the individual victory of each character’s own good over its own evil has been beautifully portrayed through Majidi’s signature visuals all the way to the last shot of the movie – one which symbolizes the very title of the movie.
With a powerful sibling psychological story and a wonderful setting like Mumbai, Majidi had many things going for him in this movie. Yet, he may have been caught in his zest to adapt the melodrama cloud that Indian cinema is used to being hovered over by or he may have simply been pushed by his co-screenwriter to write a screenplay that is soaked with scenes that are perhaps uncharacteristically Majidi when it comes to sentimentalizing and visual choreography. Either way, I felt that Majidi may have lost out an opportunity to make a completely authentic Majidi Indian film, even though the last 30 minutes of the movie more than makes up for the rest of the movie, in terms of leaving the Majidi stamp.
The OST of the film has been playing in my car for the past 2 weeks. And yet, when the thematic musical pice of the movie – “Beyond the Clouds” played towards the end, it was so haunting when superimposed with the last frame, that my eyes were moist as I was left thinking about the happy tragedies of all these characters, now redeemed, and their acceptance of everything, here, there and beyond the clouds.