Despite being a film by veteran Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi, Beyond The Clouds, at times veers dangerously close to becoming a Bollywood movie (and that's hardly ever a good thing). There are moments in the film that are overwrought and extremely sentimental. Malavika Mohanan's cries for help, that you might have already seen in the trailer of the film, reminds you of the wronged helpless Bollywood behena who needs her brother to make things right. The minimal plot of the film is almost threadbare, and the theme of seemingly-bad-people-discovering-their-innate-goodness has already become a hackneyed concept in Bollywood.
However, as the end credit of Beyond The Clouds roll, it is hard to remember the flaws of the film. Majidi's main focus is to make the audience feel intimately and deeply about his characters and his mastery lies in the fact that he makes you forget that what you are essentially watching is a very simple, if not completely cliched story.
With powerful visuals and some unexpected human bonds, Majidi tugs at the heartstrings of his audience. He touches most of his pet themes in the film -- humanitarianism, the innocence of children, social injustice, familial ties and lastly even faith. However, more importantly, he touches the hearts of the viewers.
The film in itself is not particularly memorable, but, a few scenes are as beautiful as impressionist paintings and leaves you in awe. From hundreds of flamingos flocking at the Thane creek, a wall full of crayon doodles, numerous fishermen's boats floating on the sea to several reoccurring scenes where white sheets, walls, or curtains are used as a medium for shadow play-- there are many scenes in the film that are truly unforgettable.
Beyond The Clouds also happens to be Majidi's love letter to Mumbai. His perspective on the city may be that of an outsider, but it certainly isn't that of a foreigner. With acute mindfulness, the filmmaker meticulously reconstructs the sprawling, pulsating city in his film. He doesn't miss a single sight or sound. In fact, at times he surprises you with locations that you might not have noticed in your rushed existence.
With Anil Mehta's brilliant cinematography, Majidi engages all your senses in his film and captures Mumbai in all its glory and ugliness. The main characters of the film belong to the Mumbai's underclass, and as the camera follows them around we see many dingy, mucky by lanes, where sewer water clogs potholes. Majidi, however, finds ways to introduce a poetic quality to such grim surroundings. Throughout the film, Mumbai isn't just a setting or background, it is in fact Beyond The Clouds' third protagonist.
At its core, Beyond The Clouds is a story of two characters, a brother-sister duo-- brother being Amir (Ishaan Khattar) and his sister being Tara (Malavika Mohanan)-- who are struggling to establish their identities in the world. Both Amir and Tara have their grudges against one another. However, apart from each other, they don't have any other family. Therefore, when tragedy strikes and Amir is on the run from the police, it is Tara who provides him shelter and protection.
Unfortunately, as fate would have it, Akshi (Gautam Ghose), who initially helps Tara to hide Amir from police, tries to rape her and in self-defense, Tara hits Akshi back with a fatal blow. Police immediately arrests Tara and charges her with the attempted murder of Akshi. The only way Tara can get out of jail is if Akshi drops charges. However, after suffering a head injury, Akshi isn't in a condition to speak. Therefore, the two protagonists must wait for Akshi to recover so that Tara can be free.
There is a scene in the film where Khattar's Amir torments the bed-ridden rapist in the hospital. He takes off Akshi's oxygen mask and waits until he cannot breathe anymore, deliciously savoring his pain. But, as soon as he begins to drift off, Amir quickly places the mask back onto his face. It's a tragic situation to be in, trying to keep your sister's rapist alive, so that your sister can stay out of jail. However, Amir isn't the only one in the film who finds himself in such strange predicament.
Khattar delivers a matured performance as Amir. While Bollywood has seen many glorious star kids' debuts in the past, there has hardly ever been a newcomer before Khattar who has had such a confident debut. Although there are a few scenes where Khattar seems out of depth, for most parts his performance is layered and sure-footed. On the other hand, Mohanan looks like she is acting. Her efforts look sincere but she fails to make the audience feel anything for Tara and her miserable plight.
The most winning performance of the film, however, comes from 72-year-old GV Sharada who plays Akshi's mother and grandmother to his two daughters. The two girls and their grandmother (Sharada) are practically inseparable for the entire duration of the film and together they bring a vulnerability onscreen that is heartfelt and warm. Another child actor that deserves mention is Shivam Pujari who plays the role of Chotu. Tara, during her time in prison, grows really fond of Chotu, who is the son of another inmate (Tannishtha Chatterjee).
Strangely, Sharada's grandmother portrayal in Beyond The Clouds reminds one of the grandmother in Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (Song of The Road). There is no commonality in the two characters except that neither of them seems like they are playing a role. They both feel real as if they cannot be anyone other than the characters they are. Majidi has often said that he has been strongly influenced by Satyajit Ray's cinema. In a way, Beyond The Clouds pays tribute to Ray's earlier works where poverty played a pivotal part and shaped the characters of his films.
Like most of Majid Majidi films, Beyond The Clouds is a brilliant exposition of human nature. Through the characters of the film, we are reminded that a little kindness goes a long way and no matter the circumstances, kindness is always possible by everyone, everywhere. Tara's kindness for another inmate's child makes her prison time bearable while Amir's kindness to Akshi's family gives him reasons to be happy even when he knows his sister is facing a lifetime of imprisonment if Akshi doesn't recover. Finally, Beyond The Clouds is about accepting and surrendering to everything that life has to offer, which too requires tremendous faith. Despite few flaws, Beyond The Clouds is a film that should be experienced.