When a seasoned character actor of the quality of Pankaj Kapur takes the director?s seat, expectations are bound to be high, especially in the light of the fact that the thespian?s professional alliance has consistently been with Hindi cinema of the offbeat kind. So it wouldn?t be fitting to judge his first film by the indulgent yardsticks usually reserved for less ambitious Bollywood potboilers.
Had it been made by anyone else, Mausam might well have been dubbed an exceptional film. Coming from Kapur, it is at best a middling effort.
Mausam is an ambitious film that seeks to blend the conventions of mass-oriented Mumbai entertainers with the style and substance of a more intimate and meaningful mode of storytelling. But the tools that Kapur employs are simple and uncomplicated. Just as well.
Mausam is nowhere near flawless. Its first half is visually scrumptious and eminently watchable; the second is a touch erratic and unconvincing.
Yet Kapur?s well-honed sensibility serves to ensure that the film never loses its grip on its heart even when its narrative flow borders on the dreary.
Mausam is overlong and tends to meander rather listlessly in parts, but the debutant director deserves plaudits for daring to put a mighty new spin on his cross-community love saga that spans across several tumultuous decades.
The intense, intermittently engaging tale at the core of Mausam unfolds against the backdrop of several violent political flashpoints that have shaken the foundations of contemporary India.
The ebbs and tides of the love story are impinged upon by the outbreak in the late 1980s of militancy in Kashmir Valley, the Ayodhya dispute, the Mumbai serial blasts, the Kargil conflict and the post-Godhra Gujarat riots of 2002.
Mausam is not, however, cast in the mould of an edgy Mani Ratnam film. Its political context remains largely in the background. Yet Kapur generally succeeds in weaving the harsh reality of Hindu-Muslim hostilities into his fictional tapestry with skill, style and sensitivity.
It isn?t as if everything about Mausam has the sparkle and abandon of spring or the freshness of dew-drops on an upcountry winter morning. The film tends to be a touch laboured at times but it benefits no end from the writer-director?s willingness to steer clear of the familiar.
The film opens in the Punjab countryside, where a drifter waiting for a call-up from the Indian Air Force, Harry (Shahid Kapoor) meets and falls in love with a Kashmiri girl, Aayat (Sonam Kapoor), who has been sent away to the safety of her elder sister?s home.
But as events beyond the smitten couple?s control swirl around them, the relationship between Harry and Aayat inevitably runs aground. The lovers separate, pine in silence for each other, meet again and part in faraway Scotland, and then finally reunite amid the Gujarat conflagration.
Mausam tells a life-affirming love story that is enlivened by fine performances from the lead actors, embellished with a clutch of hummable numbers (Pritam) and given a high degree of sophistication by cinematographer Binod Pradhan?s luminous camerawork.
For Shahid Kapoor, Mausam represents a major leap forward as an actor. From a happy-go-lucky wastrel to a passionate lover boy, and from an earnest fighter pilot to a man agonising for his lost love, he traverses a wide spectrum of shades with confidence.
Though comparisons may be inevitable, Shahid is neither Top Gun?s Tom Cruise nor Aradhana?s younger Rajesh Khanna. He carves out his own identity, lending to the character a range of subtle emotional elements that set it apart.
Sonam Kapoor may still have some way to go as an actress, but she conveys the essential vulnerability of a girl forever under duress, bringing out just the right mix of feminine fragility and native resolve.
Mausam isn?t obviously your average boy meets girl story. Boy indeed meets girl in this romantic tale, but they do not walk down the path that screen lovers usually take in Bollywood films.
What Mausam articulates is a simple truth: in the uneasy times that we live in, is pure, unadulterated love possible? Can our hearts and minds rise above the destructive forces that surround us?
The nearly three-hour-long Mausam takes eons to arrive at the conclusion of that thematic formulation, but the heartfelt humanist statement that it makes is shot through with honesty and simplicity.
To conclude, Mausam could quite easily have ended up being a stodgy, strenuous and self-conscious drama. Writer-director Kapur, the accomplished actor that he is, orchestrates the emotional ups and downs of his tale with a commendable degree of moderation for the most part. Mausam is certainly worth a viewing.