I couldn't believe I was laughing to tears sitting in a cinema hall while watching a Hindi film. But there I was. My laughter went on when I realised that nobody else in the hall was laughing with me. There was Sumant Mastkar playing an old man whose last name was the same as the producer and co-screenwriter of the film, sitting in a wheelchair and offering some wisdom to the film's protagonist. But the words he spoke were written neither by Anurag Kashyap (the aforementioned producer) nor by Vikramaditya Motwane (the primary screenwriter making an outstanding directorial début), but by Jim Morrison.
But Udaan wasn't about inspired comic strokes. It wasn't a funny look at growing up. It was a well-written, well-acted, well-made story of a teenager grappling with the challenge of growing up in circumstances that were not as favourable as he would have liked them to be.
The film opens with four students in Simla sneaking out of the hostel to watch a skin flick. Cult director-producer Kanti Shah would hardly have imagined that his B-grade reeler Angoor would become as famous as it no doubt will thanks to this film. We are never introduced to our protagonist, until the moment in the principal's office the following day when the boys are expelled. We then follow Rohan Singh as he makes his way back to Jamshedpur to spend time with a tyrannical father given to bouts of violent anger and a step brother he never knew he had. Motwane takes elements ripe for high drama and lets them play out with sobriety and intelligence. Instead of making something for the stuffy art houses, he makes good use of Amit Trivedi's songs and background score (not including that wonderful cue for the first morning jog on the soundtrack CD is a criminal offence) while balancing them with sequences where silence reigns. In these sequences, Jameshedpur's industrial veneer that seemed to mirror his cold and stern father looked different and more idyllic as Rohan skipped college and penned poems and stories. I was reminded of Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura, but any comparison would be unjust to either film -- Motwane is not striving for minimalist success; he's trying to tell a personal story while employing a variety of narrative devices -- if you thought he was trying to be anti-mainstream, all you have to do to crush that idea is consider the references of pop culture strewn across the film and how the lyrics of the songs that remain in the background complement the goings-on on screen.
One of the film's subtle rewards is in how it uses the city of Jamshedpur (what was the last film set in and shot in Jamshedpur?). The city is notable for its industrial heritage as well as its planning. Motwane resists the mainstream temptation of turning this film into an advertisement for tourists and instead offers an introduction to the organic elements of the city. When Rohan's father gives him a running tour, he is also introducing us to the various elements of the city. We see the city at night through Rohan's eyes. We see the factory as Rohan sees it and also, to a minor extent, as his father does. It is an admirable choice (reportedly a suggestion from Imtiaz Ali) that gives you the idea of a small town, without actually being a place too far removed from the modern world.
As if a strong turn by debutante Rajat Barmecha as Rohan Singh was not enough, we get a marvellous performance from the younger Aayan Boradia. Ram Kapoor (often sounding like Anurag Kashyap) makes a great foil for Rajat's burgeoning ambitions but it is Ronit Roy as the father who gives the film its spine. Motwane and Kashyap present him not as a dark villain, but as a complex product of the aspirations of his father, the burden of his responsibilities as the eldest son and his inability to change what he has become. He epitomises what Rohan and Arjun might become (or worse) if they continue to remain stifled by his unrelenting dictatorial care. I found myself sympathising with his plight, even though I sensed that both boys could do with some time outside his cage. Udaan is the unhurried patient exploration of their journey understanding each other and their father with a conclusion that is satisfying both in its essence and in its ode to the famous ending of Francois Truffaut's classic film that, interestingly enough, was also about a kid growing up.