Beyond the Clouds is Iranian maestro Majid Majidi’s ninth film but it is his first film in Hindi. Majidi is a master filmmaker. His 1997 film Children of Heaven was the first Iranian film to be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. His bittersweet tales invariably focus on children, hardship and the importance of retaining human connections and compassion. His best films seamlessly combine reality with lyricism. For Beyond the Clouds, Majidi relocates his story-telling to Mumbai. The movie isn’t wholly satisfying but there is enough to savor here.
Like Ishaan Khatter. He makes a remarkably assured debut combining the arrogance of youth with vulnerability. This is an actor blessed with, what Christopher Nolan calls, visual empathy. You connect with him immediately. The role of the slumdog Amir requires him to grapple with complex emotions. Amir is at once, scarred, cruel and loving. Ishaan plays him with conviction. Malavika Mohanan, playing Amir’s sister Tara, is striking even though in some scenes, she comes off as a little shrill. This is also her Hindi film debut. And watch out for the two children who steal the show – Shivam Pujari as Chotu and Amruta Santosh Thakur as Asha.
Silhouettes are a recurring motif and the play of light and shadows make ordinary spaces like Dhobi Ghat seem extraordinary
Majidi is a master of visuals. The film begins with an arresting opening shot that instantly conveys the essence of Mumbai and Amir’s place in it. The camera focuses on a young man darting across a flyover and then follows him down under, where you see impoverished families living. The subject matter might be grim but Majidi and DOP Anil Mehta give us striking images – silhouettes are a recurring motif and the play of light and shadows make ordinary spaces like Dhobi Ghat seem extraordinary. There is also a beautifully done actions sequence that captures the flamingos in Sewri.
But the stumbling block is the story by Majidi and Mehran Kashani. Beyond the Clouds is about a brother and sister grappling with difficult circumstances. Their lives are stunted by poverty and brutality. Amir dreams of something better and is willing to take shortcuts, which lands Tara in jail. The film follows their parallel tracks as Amir attempts to undo what has happened. Like most Iranian auteurs, Majidi is a master of sparse storytelling but the move to Mumbai seems to have impacted this.
Ultimately Beyond the Clouds is a mixed bag. It is likely to be a footnote in Majidi’s rich filmography
The narrative in Beyond the Clouds is overwrought. The beats are predictable and the treatment, heavy-handed. Through Majidi’s eyes, the city of Mumbai might seem new but the characters are familiar. The city’s energy and colors are palpable but the story-telling has less sparkle. A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack further underlines every note. Subtlety is not this film’s strong point.
Ultimately Beyond the Clouds is a mixed bag. It is likely to be a footnote in Majidi’s rich filmography. But the film is worth seeing as an intriguing experiment. I’m going with three stars.