10 years of Udaan: Looking back at Vikramaditya Motwane's breakthrough film that dared to dream big
While Udaan released in theatres in India on 16 July 2010, it was in May of that year that the movie premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival.
A couple of months ago, Rajeev Masand brought Vikramaditya Motwane, Ronit Roy and Rajat Barmecha together, as a sort of reunion (or what can be as close to a reunion in lockdown), to celebrate 10 years of their film, Udaan. While Udaan released in theatres in India on 16 July 2010, it was in May of that year that the movie premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. The nostalgia in the interview was palpable, as the director and the two lead actors discussed what it was like to make the film — to shoot in Jamshedpur, the time Barmecha broke Roy’s nose, and what makes the movie still connect with audiences, ten years after it got a standing ovation in Cannes.
2010 was an interesting year for Bollywood. Dabangg, My Name is Khan, Band Baaja Baraat, Raajneeti and Guzaarish all released in that year. It also saw movies like Peepli Live, Break Ke Baad and Paan Singh Tomar. Udaan, quite frankly, was different from anything else, not just that year, but pretty much from any portrayal of family life in Bollywood. The protagonist, Rohan, wasn’t the quintessential hero. He was neither amazing at sports, nor a super confident Casanova. Instead, he’s a quiet, sensitive poet, who had been expelled from boarding school and forced to come back home to Jamshedpur, to be with his father. Ronit Roy’s Bhairav Singh isn’t the stern but loving father most of Bollywood revels in, he was downright abusive.
It is these nuances that make Udaan so iconic even 10 years later. There’s something everyone can relate to in Udaan, even if they haven’t been in that particular situation. One of the most prominent themes of Udaan is standing up to authority. Whether it is in reckless ways like sneaking out to watch a movie from boarding school, or more mature ways like coming back for your younger brother to help him escape an unloving and abusive home, the film celebrates these incidents with aplomb.
When Rohan feels caged in the small house and in his engineering course in Jamshedpur, the rebellion happens in small ways like driving around in the rain, telling stories to patients in the hospital, and battering the family car. He even punches back at Bhairav Singh after a particularly nasty confrontation. Rohan isn’t perfect, and his rebellion isn’t polite, or moral. He’s just lashing out in whatever ways he knows how.
Rohan isn’t a perfect character, but so isn't the “villain” of the story — his father, Bhairav Singh. “I never saw him as a villain, I saw him as a father,”says Roy, about the character in this interview with Masand. Bhairav is obviously unloving, he’s abusive, there is no warmth between him and his sons, he even demands that they call him sir, and not papa. Not only does he insist that Rohan can’t be a poet and has to be an engineer, he also hits Arjun (played by an amazing Aayan Barodia) so badly that he ends up in hospital. But through some lines here, and some expressions there, the narrative makes it clear that Bhairav Singh too isn’t all black. We’re told of his childhood, and his relationship with his father, which was abusive too. We’re told he came all the way to Shimla to meet Rohan, and even saw him from a distance, but couldn’t gather up the courage to meet his son, because he had nothing to say.
And I admire that the character didn’t change. He wasn’t the father from a Taare Zameen Par, who misunderstands his son, but actually loves him and changes over the movie. Bhairav Singh might love his sons, he might have their best interests at heart but there is no change in him through the movie and in the end, the boys are forced to run away from him.
It struck a chord because most kids have gone through similar experiences. Most cases of abuse at home go unreported, and we may never know how badly kids are treated in their own homes. Indian parents love planning the lives of their children, and forcing their own dreams down their children's throats. When Rohan says he wants to study arts, Bhairav Singh’s response is “Tumse poocha koi?” Most children have heard variations of this statement throughout their lives.
The eventual rebellion, therefore, is so satisfying. Yes, the journey from home to the unknown probably won’t be all rainbows and butterflies, but even that struggle is better than what they’re leaving behind. The film doesn’t reach some kind of compromise between parent and child, it doesn’t promote obedience and blind devotion to your parents, it doesn’t see the parent having a massive change of heart and they don’t end up a happy family. All of this makes Udaan more real, more believable than most films.
Finally, how do I end this article without talking about the music of Udaan? One of the best, and most popular Amit Trivedi albums, it still tugs at my heartstrings 10 years on. The music is empowering and uplifting, the lyrics soothing. 'Kahaani,' 'Geet mein dhalte lafzon mein' and my personal favourite 'Azaadiyaan' are without doubt, some of the finest songs Trivedi has composed. There is a boyish exuberance to the songs but there is also a sense of something breaking free.