As writer-director Neeraj Ghaywan’s debut film Masaan premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19 – in the Un Certain Regard section of the 68th edition of the festival – he is just glad to have finally found inner peace.
Ghaywan went through months of depression and took several detours in his career – he’s an engineer by education, who held down a marketing job at UTV films, and he only gave it up five years ago. He credits director Anurag Kashyap (who he met while blogging for the now-defunct indie cinema website Passion For Cinema) as one of the people who urged him to pursue film-making.
“I felt burnt out and I used to listen to songs from Udaan to comfort myself. I was casually catching up with Anurag when I confided in him that I cried a lot and felt frustrated.” That phone call changed everything. Ghaywan quit his job that very day to work as an assistant director for Kashyap’s two-part epic saga Gangs Of Wasseypur. Those two-and-a-half years he spent working on the film is what he now calls his “film school”.
During this time the 35-year-old was simultaneously working on the script for Masaan (which literally means crematorium). The film’s rather cryptic plot revolves around four individuals in Benares, whose stories are linked by the Ganges. A young boy in love is up against caste structures (Vicky Kaushal), an orphan looks for acceptance (Shweta Tripathi), a receptionist finds herself mired in a sex scandal (Richa Chadda) and her father, a conservative priest (Sanjay Mishra) struggles to come to terms with it all; they're all pressured by very real socio-cultural mores of small town India. Ghaywan and the film’s co-writer Varun Grover spent a month documenting the lives of the people living in Benares. “My grouse with most films is that they approach their subjects from an outsider’s perspective. I didn’t want to do that.”
But even before he started shooting the film, he was making news. It was one of the few films to be invited to the prestigious Drishyam and Sundance Institute Screenwriter’s Lab, and later bagged the lab’s Global Filmmaking Award. Despite that, when funds were in short supply, support came from producers Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, Manish Mundra and Guneet Monga. “Money was never an issue. It’s just exciting to finally shed my inhibitions to make this movie – there’s a kick to it.”
You may also want to read: Shweta Tripathi's Cannes diary