Udaan: Reliving the decade-defining hindi feature film | by Sidharth Iyer

The numerous ‘Must-Watch Movies’ lists that are doing the rounds these days – amidst this global pandemic – is simply mind boggling. But the one thing that they all have in common: the personal impact these movies have had on each and every curator of these lists.

Being a cinephile is probably the best thing one can experience being in their lives. And when you are able to influence/educate more people about some of the best motion pictures – which they would have never heard of, or probably never really considered to watch for the lack of time or genuine recommendation from their friends – it gives a different high.

May 19, 2010 will forever go down in history when the collective global cinephiles gathered at the Cannes Film Festival to have the opportunity to view what I believe is the ‘Decade Defining Hindi Feature Film’ – Udaan.

Synopsis:

A simple story with a big heart, Udaan follows the journey of Rohan Singh (Rajat Barmecha), who – after being abandoned for eight straight years in boarding school – returns to the small industrial town of Jamshedpur and finds himself closeted with his authoritarian father, Bhairav Singh (Ronit Roy) and a younger half brother Arjun Singh (Aayan Boradia) who he didn’t even know existed. Forced to work in his father’s steel factory and study engineering against his wishes, he strives to forge his own life out of his given circumstances and pursue his dream of being a writer.

Reliving the movie through 10 defining scenes

Rohan’s love for poetry

The very first time you get to hear Rohan’s poem is when he is expelled from boarding school along with his three friends. He recites the poem to his best friend Maninder Singh (Manjot Singh) which is a deep yet playful reminiscence of the eight years that he had spent away from home in the boarding school.

This is the very first glimpse you get of the burning desire that Rohan has to become a writer. But, you get the sense that he’s still honing his skills when he asks Maninder, ‘Do you like it?’, and soon comes back with a follow-up question, ‘Did you understand it?’

A good writer, always writes for his soul, but a great writer knows how to touch one…

Enter Bhairav Singh

As Rohan reaches Jamshedpur and his eyes wander around the train platform to look for his father, and you see Bhairav Singh standing at the footbridge awaiting Rohan with a stern and downward gaze.

This sets up the entire mood for the film, as you begin to get a closer look into Rohan’s life, and at the same time understand that there is this deafening distance between Bhairav Singh, the father and his son Rohan.

Bhairav Singh’s violent streak

The very first evening of Rohan’s arrival, the trio of Rohan, Arjun and Bhairav Singh visit Jimmy Singh (Ram Kapoor), Bhairav’s younger brother for dinner.

At the dining table, when Jimmy casually enquires of Rohan’s plans for the future. Rohan mentions his passion for writing and thus the inclination towards studying Arts.

Unamused Bhairav Singh trashes the idea, and says: “You will do engineering and later come work with me” – the quintessential dream of every Indian father.

Rohan stands his ground, but is quickly shown his place when he gets into an argument with his father outside Jimmy’s home. The next moment, Bhairav has wrestled Rohan to the ground and smacks him to ensure the message is loud and clear.

This scene gives the first glimpse of the violent and abusive streak that Bhairav carries around throughout the duration of the film.

Arjun and Rohan bonding

It’s only when Rohan arrives from the boarding school after being expelled that he finds out that he has a half brother now – Arjun. At first he simply dismisses his existence in his life, but slowly begins to realise that if he – being a teenager – is being ill-treated by his father, the little boy has been living with Bhairav all his life.

Rohan and Arjun begin to share a growing bond of brotherhood, but above that the similar dislike for Bhairav Singh or Sir. Rohan had made it a habit to delay Bhairav every morning to get to work, while he’s still getting his hair in order.

This scene is where Arjun and Rohan both share a moment knowing Bhairav is at his wits’ end, yet they don’t flinch.

A drunk Bhairav Singh opens up to Rohan

As the movie progresses you are only empathizing with Rohan and Arjun, but this is the very first time in the movie where you get to see the vulnerable side to Bhairav Singh. 

After getting drunk at yet another dinner at Jimmy’s place, Rohan drives Bhairav Singh home. While supporting him up the stairs, Bhairav begins to mock Rohan and eventually after reaching the top of the stairs stumbles to the ground.

While ‘looking up’ at Rohan for the very first time in the movie he opens up about how he did visit Rohan once at boarding school, but seeing that he was happy and not really having anything good to say felt it was better to leave unannounced.

This is when you realise that even Bhairav Singh is human (afterall), as he proceeds to gather his footing and Rohan tries to support him again, he pushes Rohan away… to bring his guard back up!

This is the first scene where you – even if for a moment – empathize with Bhairav Singh’s character.

Jimmy’s encouragement for Rohan’s writing aspirations

Jimmy seems to be the only character in the movie that truly appreciates Rohan’s gift with words. And in an effort to give Rohan some encouragement, Jimmy decides to create an opportunity where Rohan can recite a poem in his father’s presence.

Whilst at a picnic, the ‘boys’ are seated on two benches when Jimmy probes the idea of hearing one of Rohan’s poems, only to be smirked at by Bhiarav, but he eventually gives in.

Rohan recites yet another deep and thoughtful poem that speaks about the constant urge to get some support or encouragement from the one person he seeks it from, but knowing he won’t get it, he still keeps aspiring for it… so that one day he can truly soar high!

Bhairav Singh once again mocks Rohan saying: “The least that can come out of your poems is either they get printed in some trivial publication, or you get a penny in return”; albeit his eyes were stuck on Rohan during the entire recitation.

Rohan accepts Arjun as his brother

Since Rohan’s arrival from boarding school, you get to see Arjun’s obsession for the Superman action figure that belongs to Rohan.

After the incident that leads to Arjun being taken to the hospital for medical attention and while Bhairav Singh is away on business to Kolkata, the brothers begin to get closer.

In this scene Rohan brings Arjun his favourite Superman action figure along with some of his Comic Books and Colouring Books, but getting his hands on Superman is all that Arjun can think of.

Soon Arjun opens up to Rohan about what truly transpired on that day, and Rohan truly begins to love and care for Arjun as his own brother from then on… 

Rohan’s pent-up rage on the car

This scene will give you the chills, not because of what Rohan does, but how he does it.

From always being put down by his father, to having to study engineering when he has no inclination towards it, to not being able to express his passion for writing, and having to ‘man up’ when all he wants to do is live life as a teenager.

Something had to give, and it finally did! Rohan just wields an iron rod and smashes the windshield of his father’s car and then keeps going until he gets a sense of relief from the pain and agony that’s inside him.

This scene just goes to show that there is a breaking point in all of us, and when you get there you just want to take control of things… even if it stems from losing control over yourself to get there!

Rohan finally takes flight… Udaan!

This is probably the most cathartic moment in the movie… Rohan finally achieves what Bhairav Singh was pushing him for! But at what cost?

After spending a night behind bars for his car rage incident, Rohan returns home the following morning and decides that he will go to Mumbai to be with his friends and start his life afresh, but not before putting Bhairav Singh in his place.

As Rohan is storming out of Bhairav Singh’s life, Bhairav grabs him by his hair near the stairs and pushes him towards the wall, but Rohan is done having his back against the wall and retaliates with a blow to Bhairav Singh’s nose and his towering ego!

Bhairav chases behind Rohan and nearly catches up to him but all those early morning runs and always losing to his father with the words “disgraceful” ringing in his ears, Rohan goes all out and just doesn’t stop until he’s left Bhairav far far behind in his trails!

A new beginning… and the end of an era!

Earlier in the movie, on his 18th birthday, Rohan was given a watch by Bhairav Singh that has been a family tradition coming down from two generations and it was Rohan’s turn to take the family tradition forward.

With Rohan and Arjun leaving Bhairav Singh behind to live out his years without them in his life, Bhairav Singh is also left behind without a ‘heir’ to not only take forth the family tradition, but also the family name!

This is probably the most heart-wrenching moment you see Bhairav Singh in throughout the movie. He accepts that his sons are never coming back into his life.

Final thoughts:

Personally, the story of Udaan in the end was bittersweet for me… while Bhairav Singh deserved every bit of the poetic justice he experiences, it would have been even more interesting to get to see a ‘change of heart’ moment that the character arc experiences in his journey.

But Udaan remains one of the most special movies of my life (also being extensively shot in my hometown Jamshedpur makes it that much sweeter). The music by Amit Trivedi and lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya give the story the depth and nuance that it requires, which has also stood the test of time – a decade and counting…

Udaan is that masterpiece that only ages like fine wine, and I am certain when it comes up at the 25 Year Anniversary mark, I will still have loads to write about this brilliant piece of cinema from the minds of Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane.

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