A few months back, I reviewed a film, The 400 Blows about a boy who is driven to a life of petty crime resulting from parental and societal neglect. As I watched Udaan yesterday, I couldn't help but see the striking thematic similarities between the two films. Directed by Vikramaditya Motwane who struggled for 4 years to receive funding to make the film, Udaan is a poignant, powerful and ultimately inspiring slice-of-life film which will leave you touched and uplifted.
Expelled from boarding school for disciplinary issues, Rohan (Rajat Barmecha) comes home to Jamshedpur after 8 years to his father Bhairav Singh (Ronit Roy), a small steel manufacturer. He finds out that after his mother's death, his father remarried and he now has a 6 year old brother Arjun (Aayan Barodia) from the failed marriage. Rohan dreams of being a writer but his father wants him to study engineering and work at the steel plant. His father is a tyrant who insists on being referred to as "Sir" and is never satisfied no matter how much Rohan tries to win his approval. In such a situation, he only finds solace in his caring uncle (Ram Kapoor). With no solution in sight, he starts rebelling in an increasingly serious manner till things cross a limit leading to bitter confrontations.
Sure, the plot is formulaic and predictable. However, formulas exist for a reason; when used correctly, they work with audiences. Udaan is an excellent example of that. It's themes of coming of age, struggles with family, following your dreams are universal. It weaves these into a simple story and puts it on paper and later, on the reels so well that it is hard not to like the film. It is gritty and effective with strong emotional undercurrents and tensions that are disturbing because I could immediately relate to them. The film shatters the cinematic myths about the typical Indian families. It portrays teen angst, compromises and conflicts extremely well. In its realism, it gives us characters which we recognise immediately and care for. The music, production scale etc. is kept to a minimum to maintain that sense of realism and drama. The poetry written for Rohan is exceptionally good and appropriately illustrates his hopes, aspirations, fears and dreams.
Each of the characters are sketched with the aim of making them as real as possible. In Rohan, we see a teenager full of hope and life. He is bursting with talent as a writer and is struggling to keep that dream alive under his father's tyrannical regime. Bhairav Singh is impossible to like. Nevertheless, the character is beautifully layered and hence, real. The writers ensure that we know where he is coming from to understand his behaviour. The scene prior to the intermission is crucial for achieving this and that is, I believe the best scene of the film, both in terms of writing and direction. Arjun is adorable as child who is innocent and is too young to understand just how awful his father really is. His relationship with his half-brother is also organically developed with moments straight out of life. It is in developing these characters and their relationships with each other that the success of the film truly lies.
A film like Udaan would be nowhere as effective if it weren't for the superlative performances. Rajat Barmecha is stunning as Rohan. His silent stares and quiet tears convey a great deal. Aayan Barodia is also unbelievably adorable as Arjun and gets his expressions spot on. Ram Kapoor is perfect as the jolly and affectionate uncle trying to hold his brother's family together. The actors playing Rohan's friends, both at boarding school and college are fantastic and provide the much needed humour both, for Rohan and the audience. However, the film belongs to one man and that is Ronit Roy. For a film like Udaan, it is imperative that we really loathe the antagonist and Roy ensures that. Breaking out of his saas-bahu staple, he gives a terrific performance as the overbearing, difficult and tyrannical father who is oblivious to what his children need. He gives what is probably the best supporting performance I have seen this year so far.
Ultimately, Udaan is a prime example in the changing nature of Hindi cinema. It is a comment on today's society and its parents. It is a very poignant coming of age film. The sequence where Rohan runs from his father is every bit as effective as the final scene in The 400 Blows. It is an important story that needs to be told. Stories like these can be found even today in several places; from small towns to big cities. Many boys and girls like Rohan are out there struggling to break out of their claustrophobic realities and deal with domestic abuse and violence on a daily basis. This film speaks for them. That alone makes the film worthy of a recommendation. That it does that job well makes this an unmissable cinematic experience.