A competently written comedy about two elderly people who forge an unlikely friendship after their houses are burgled by an out-of-work tailor, Mast Mein Rehne Ka is a gentle little film that conveys home truths about survival in a megapolis that never stops for anybody, least of all for those who have outlived their utility or have fallen by the wayside.
Mumbai certainly does not stop for the two ageing protagonists. They are in the autumn of their lives but they respond differently to the pitfalls that plague them in their advancing years. The man, played with great conviction by Jackie Shroff, has succumbed to a monotonous routine that has sapped all his energy. The woman, brought to life with gusto by Neena Gupta, is full of beans despite the fact that she too has been sold her share of lemons by life.
On a parallel narrative track, a younger pair languish at the bottom of the urban heap. At both ends of the spectrum, Mast Mein Rehne Ka is about a relationship that affirms the human urge – and ability – to find connections against all odds and across obstacles.
Written and directed by actor and screenplay/dialogue writer Vijay Maurya, Mast Mein Rehne Ka, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is a simple tale that alternates between jollity and poignance without missing too many beats.
Maurya’s Mumbai is a city that gives no quarters. Nanhe, a migrant, is a skilled tailor but his existence in the city is at best slippery. He encounters one setback after another but such is his lot that he has to keep going even as nothing seems to be going his way.
The flow of Mast Mein Rehne Ka is episodic. It jumps from one situation to another, and one break-in to another, but holds itself together, thanks to its intrinsic empathy for its characters, each one sharply etched and played flawlessly by the four principal actors.
V.S. Kamath (Shroff) is desperately lonely, so lonely that he is now merely counting his days. Parkash Kaur Handa (Gupta) has learnt to conceal her wounds behind a facade of exuberance. The former is frustratingly reticent, the latter never stops talking.
Kamath believes that life is like the waves of the sea that hit the shore incessantly without anybody ever noticing or grasping them. For the never-say-die Parkash, the act of living is akin to the simple joy of salivating over a raw mango eaten with a pinch of salt. The film treats the drama of two worldviews colliding and coalescing with humour and warmth.
The transformative emotional bond that takes shape between a 75-year-old widower and a garrulous grandmother (of a child who is far away in Canada) during their morning walks in a park and forced trips to a police station has the touch of the miraculous.
Even more improbable is the abrupt crossing of the paths of the tailor-turned-thief Nanhe (Abhishek Chauhan) and a spunky street dweller, Rani (Monika Panwar). Here, too, the film presents a study in contrasts. Nanhe is susceptible to despair at the slightest shove, Rani is a tough nut to crack, having survived on the mean streets of Mumbai and weathered many a storm.
Mast Mein Rehne Ka, with its heart in the right place, papers over its occasional creases with the aid of the vitality of the writing. The story of the film is credited to Payal Arora and the director. It homes in on two specific pairs of people in a particular city – the idiosyncrasies of Mumbai colloquialisms are captured to perfection by Maurya’s dialogues and they add a layer to the film – but isn’t just about these people and one city.
While the film hinges on four individuals we begin to care for and locates them within the relentless rhythms of a bustling city that makes things exceedingly difficult for those that are pushed to its fringes by old age or poverty. The struggles of Kamath, Parkash, Nanhe and Rani are their own but the arcs that they traverse are universal.
Mast Mein Rehne Ka does not look for pity for Kamath and Parkash – the two are the heart of the film – or for Nanhe and Rani. Their resilience in the face of solitude and adversity is what the film is interested in. The troubles of the older duo force them to look inwards. The hurdles that Nanhe and Rani face are, on the other hand, are caused by external factors rooted in the world that they inhabit.
Kamath, who lost his wife more than a decade ago, is precariously low on zeal for life. He sees his unblemished health record as a curse. In Parkash Kaur, who, too, has seen unsettling reverses but has learnt to tide over them, he finds a friend who opens a door for him.
Where they are not only (at least partly) determines their thought processes, it also highlights the melting-pot nature of the city. Kamath is a Kannadiga. Parkash is a Punjabi who describes Kamath as ‘Madrasi’, unaware of the distinct southern state identities. Kamath takes that good-natured aberration in his stride.
The two are outsiders but not as materially deprived as Nanhe and Rani. Shooting off his mouth in front of a lady customer costs Nanhe his job at a tailoring shop. He is compelled to move into a windowless tenement that sums up the state of his life – there is not a ray of hope in sight.
Rani, a feisty woman who begs at traffic signals, hasn’t given up on her dreams. To be sure, neither has Nanhe. Bilkis (Rakhi Sawant), a choreographer who is in the business of taking dance troupes to Dubai, gives Nanhe a big order for dancers’ costumes. The crunched deadline sends the struggling tailor scurrying. As the stakes rise for him, life begins to slip out of control.
Jackie Shroff and Neena Gupta do a fabulous job of powering an engaging film that relies more on mild twists than on high drama. Just as splendid are Abhishek Chauhan and Monika Panwar. The former conveys a blend of vulnerability and undying hope, while the latter delivers a performance that is full of soul.
Mast Mein Rehne Ka is proof that the director in actor and writer Vijay Maurya is anything but ordinary.
Neena Gupta, Jackie Shroff, Abhishek Chauhan, Monika Panwar
First appeared on www.ndtv.com