Udaan (flight)

Udaan (flight) is a story of the emancipation of a boy from the shackles of control and tyranny imposed by his pitiless father. The movie is sort of like Dazed and Confused, without the pot and with the corporal Dad replacing the more ethereal Man. It is a moving tale of misplaced anger, harsh discipline and of stubborn hope.

The story of Udaan, while monochromatic, is largely representative of the pressure felt by numerous youngsters across the country. It is a strange artifact, exacerbated by an unbridgeable generation gap between a world that grew up in the old India of suffocating struggles and the new world of freedom and cautious economic prosperity. When to this already incendiary mixture, you add in a single parent who is psychotic in requiring adherence to his way, and a son that has grown up on his own terms, it is a case of irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Something has to give way.

Rohan has been living in a residential school for the last eight years. Upon being suspended as a result of a caper gone wrong, he returns to his home town of Jamshedpur, and to his authoritarian dad, whom he had not met even once while away at school. He discovers that his dad had married and divorced while he was away, and consequently he has a step-brother of six years he never knew about. Dad then takes it upon himself to put Rohan on the path to a future of the former's liking. Showing no respect for Rohan's professed love for the arts, his Dad enrolls him in a vocational engineering course while forcing him to work at his factory.

Rohan struggles for acceptance and understanding, and coming up empty, begins his own form of passive aggression - staying out late and getting drunk and failing on purpose. Things come to a head when he discovers his little brother was beaten mercilessly after the latter's infractions at school.

The narrative of the movie is slow, and the scenes raw. Yet the rawness and simplicity of each scene is captivating in its own way. Scenes through out the movie have their own unmistakable visceral baggage - the principal's office, the train ride, the hazy mornings of a town, the uneven plaster of an affordable housing unit. All form a very authentic background for the unfolding story. The characters are gutsy, true and untempered. Background score is minimal.

In any minimalist movie, the characters are the brunt of the execution. In Udaan, the characters are righteously front and center. The three lead characters are cast and carried superbly. The self-righteous father is so true you cannot help hating him with a personal vengeance. Rohan and his brother have some of the most moving moments ever between newly discovered half-brothers. While there are moments that seem a bit far-fetched in character or story, for the most part everything is firmly grounded.

If you have not lived in India, this is a well made story of a dysfunctional family. But if you have ever lived in the country, this is a multi-layered experience you would do well to not miss.

February 23, 2011

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