Iran’s Majid Majidi experimentation with Bollywood in his first Indian-set feature speaks volumes of the bustling city of Mumbai that we know and the underbelly we ignore amongst the glitter and stardust.
The opening scene of the movie by this Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi takes your attention into his version of Mumbai from the blaring sounds of a city of Bollywood magic in the midst of a city that is starved by wretched poverty.
In this opening shot a young protagonist Amir (newcomer Ishaan Khatter) is introduced in the process of a drug deal, lithely weaving and hitching and jay-running his way across a traffic-clogged Mumbai as he makes multiple drops and pickups. An ebullient interlude of car-top dancing is disrupted by a police bust and ensuing chase, before he finally finds shelter in the laundry where his estranged older sister Tara (Malavika Monahan) works.
Nothing else in “Beyond the Clouds” matches this sequence for sustained brio and momentum, though Majidi and leading Bollywood cinematographer Anil Mehta (“Lagaan”) go on to throw a striking few expressionist flourishes into the mix, with cinematic shadow-play a recurring device. In one such silhouetted scene, set amid drying, billowing bedsheets, Tara’s superior Akshi (Goutam Ghose) attempts to rape her, believing her indebted to him after he helps cover for Amir. With a spatter of scarlet across ivory cotton, she strikes his head with a stone in self-defense; he narrowly survives and is hospitalized, while she’s carted off without delay to a destitute women’s prison.
With Tara facing life behind bars unless Akshi himself admits fault, it’s left to Amir to draw the truth out of the now speech-impaired rapist. The drug dealer’s own redemptive arc, meanwhile, comes with acts of initially reluctant charity to Akshi’s now-homeless family. The future-bearing role of children, as in much of the director’s work, is heavily emphasized here; Tara likewise befriends the beaming-against-the-odds daughter of a fellow inmate. Majidi and co-writer Mehran Kashadi present all their characters as jointly victimized by systemic poverty in India, though the subjugation of women under these conditions comes in for particular censure.
“Beyond the Clouds” returns him to the more intimate, earthly scale and subject matter that served him well in such films as “Baran” and the Oscar-nominated “Children of Heaven.” Majidi has long traded in a blend of social realism and outright sentimentality, and he’s back to that formula here, even if the infusion of stray elements from popular Indian cinema — including one short, out-of-the-blue dance number — jumbles the tone a bit.
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Watch the trailer here
PRODUCTION: (India) A Zee Studios International, Namah Pictures production. (International sales: Zee Studios International, Sydney.) Producers: Shareen Mantri Kedia, Kishor Arora.
Director: Majid Majidi. Screenplay: Majidi, Mehran Kashani. Camera (color): Anil Mehta. Editor: Hassan Hassandoost. Music: A.R. Rahman.
WITH: Ishaan Khattar, Malavika Mohanan, Goutam Ghose, Dhwani Rajesh, G.V. Sharada, Amruta Santosh Thakur, Shivam Pujar.