I really love this director. His movies are like a cool shower, they are so cleansing and fresh and clean and pure. You should all watch all of them (there’s only 4).
I still haven’t seen Trapped. Out of Motwane’s 4 movies in 9 years, that is the only one I missed. And it’s because Motwane’s films demand such concentration, such exclusive concentration, that it makes them far more time consuming to watch than films from another director. I try to do something else while watching them, even just folding laundry, and inevitably I stop doing everything else and just watch the screen.
I do know the basics about Trapped. It’s a high concept film, a single character and a single set, a man who gets locked into an empty unit in an empty building and can’t get a cell phone signal. I want to watch it, because I want to watch all of Motwane’s film. But I decided I didn’t have to watch it in order to write this post about Motwane, because each of his films are different from each of his other films. The only pattern with him is that there is no pattern.
Motwane looks at an idea for a film, more than that, at the soul of a film. What he is getting at, what he wants the audience to feel, what he wants his characters to say to us. And then he figures out everything else around it. So every film has a different cast, a different setting, a different genre, a different everything. And from one director, we have a realistic modern story of child abuse, a dreamy period romance, a superhero movie, and a one man thriller.
Motwane was trained by Bhansali, among others, and his business partner/creative partner in recent years is Anurag Kashyap. Both of them are directors with highly distinctive styles. And yet Motwane developed with no real style of his own. You can’t tell a Motwane film from any other film, not really. Besides it just being better than other films. You can tell a Motwane film, because of how it makes you feel. How much it makes you feel.
I knew about Motwane for years, since Udaan came out, but the first Motwane movie I saw was Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. And I was blown away by how it made me feel. I came out of that movie so ANGRY. I was ready to put on a mask and go be a vigilante myself by the end of the film. It was seriously hard to come down from that high, you can see it in my review. I didn’t even write it until the next day, I couldn’t think straight until then. I don’t feel anger in real life, like, ever. So I didn’t even know how to process this emotion. It was a strange experience.
Udaan and Lootera weren’t such shocks for me. The feelings at the heart of them still weren’t my feelings, but they weren’t so completely unlike me as to make me unable to write my review. Udaan is a little bit about being a lonely teenage boy, a little bit about being frustrated stuck in a small town, a lot about making peace with understanding your father is incapable of love, but mostly about love. That’s what you are left with at the end of the film, love that is illogical and unexpected but ultimately more important than anything.
Lootera is about changes and first love and sickness and all kinds of things, but ultimately it is about hope. I don’t know about the other stuff, but I can understand hope. I can understand that feeling that all your memories are tainted by one bad thing, and getting them back again, getting back your hope for the future.
In my first draft of this post I said that Motwane’s style follows the story, but that’s not quite true. His style follows the feeling, the story follows the feeling too, that’s where it is. It’s there in the title of his movies, “Udaan” means flight, it’s about letting go of the past and flying free. “Lootera” means robbery, it’s about being robbed of who you are and finding it again. “Trapped”, well, that one’s obvious. Motwane could write these titles on a clean white sheet of paper and simply build a film around them if he wanted. Even “Bhavesh Joshi Superhero”, a movie about the boring every day person who inspires us, who is a Superhero.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that is exactly how Motwane builds his films. And again, it is the opposite of his mentor and collaborator. When Bhansali starts a film, he works from the outside in. And sometimes (at least for me), he never actually reaches anything at the heart of it. It’s spectacle and drama, but what’s the meaning? What is it supposed to make me feel? Anurag is a bit different, I feel like he works with the characters first, builds the story through them. His films all look the same (gritty location feeling settings, un-made-up actors, costumes that are almost what you could buy in a store with a few subtle differences to make them stand out), but the stories are different. And then there’s Motwane.
One thing that is the same in every movie, Amit Trivedi. Amit has the same strange ability to change everything about his style to fit the needs of the film. Maybe because music is so mood led? He has to start with the mood, that’s where all music comes from, and he can ignore everything else. I can imagine a Motwane film with different actors, a different setting, everything else. But I can’t imagine a Motwane film without Amit Trivedi.
Speaking of actors, that’s another thing about Motwane. He likes to find unusual actors for unusual roles. Ronit Roy was an aging second lead who Motwane transformed into a terrifying father. Lootera cast Ranveer Singh in his third movie after playing two hyperactive modern heroes, and Sonakshi Sinha in her 5th movie after a string of light weight action heroine roles, and Motwane transformed them into sensitive complex characters of a lost time. Bhavesh Joshi took an actor’s son in his second film and brought out all the uncertainty and agony of youth. Motwane casts for the role he wants in the film he wants, he doesn’t care about who these actors are outside of his film. And he makes it so the actors can’t remember their previous performances either and, eventually, the audience can’t and just sees them as the characters.
And the thing is, he makes all of this look easy! You don’t think “oh, Motwane got amazing performances from these actors”, you think “oh, Motwane didn’t have to do any work, he just turned the camera on them and they performed” or “oh, Motwane didn’t have to put together this set, he just found a house and filmed there”. Or more likely, you don’t think about those things at all, you just lose yourself in the film and the story and forget there was someone making this movie at all.
I think that is why Motwane isn’t discussed as much as he should be. I don’t just mean “unappreciated genius”, I mean that while his work is appreciated, somehow it is oddly not connected to the man. I knew Udaan was supposed to be brilliant, I knew Lootera was supposed to be Sonakshi’s best performance, I knew Trapped was a strange interesting footnote in Rajkummar’s career, and I knew I that I myself loved Bhavesh Joshi. But those films are never connected to each other. I had thought Udaan and Lootera were made by one-hit directors, and I would have guessed Trapped as by Hansal Mehta. Bhavesh Joshi from some southern Communist radical director. But no, it was all the same person!
Anurag Kashyap had two generally accepted and critically acclaimed films, Dev D and Gangs of Wassaypur. Personally I like Manmarziyaan and I know some of this other films I haven’t seen are beloved of some of you. But they aren’t critically acclaimed, they aren’t talked about as universally acknowledged modern classics. And yet he is the famous one, and the maker of Udaan and Lootera and Trapped are left behind. Bhansali has made the same period drama 3 times in a row and is worshipped. Motwane made one period drama ever and it was perfect, and yet he is never discussed as a comparison to Bhansali.
I suppose this is the downside of building each film so intricately and perfectly, they seem too perfectly themselves to be connected to each other. Or maybe this is the upside. No one goes into a Motwane film with preconceived notions, no one even recognizes his name on the poster. He gets to start fresh with every release. And I can’t wait to see what he does next.