After the debacle and a spectacular disappointment of Thugs of Hindostan comes a simple multi-layered film based on ground reality, Mohalla Assi. The film is based on the eminent Hindi writer Kashi Nath Singh's book 'Kashi Ka Assi’.
It is a simple story of the transition of a Brahmin Pandey ji living in Assi, Benaras from a person who resists change in the name of faith to a person who becomes more liberal and spiritual going through various personal ans social turmoils. While embracing changes his faith and values remain intact, in fact stronger.
Pandey ji doesn't want any foreigner to be kept as a tenant in the Brahmin colony of the famous Assi ghat of Varanasi. The city is witnessing many changes--reservation, Ram temple construction, VP Singh's government and then Chandra Shekhar being sworn in as the prime minister.
Pandeyji, moved by the right-wing campaign for a Ram Temple in Ayodhya, also decides to join kar sevaks to go to Ayodhya to build Ram temple. His wife rightfully warns him that he may get arrested or even killed, he angrily responds “That's a question of faith and national pride for me!”
The daily gathering at Pappu’s tea shop is a vibrant reflection of the culture of Benaras. All kinds of people right from scholars to authors, lawyers, activists, tourist guides etc gather there and have hot and thought provoking social political discussions. These discussions in fact reflect the soul of India and it’s people, who are, though swayed by various sentiments of religious faith are broadly adjusting and tolerant. They have difference of opinions with friends and neighbours, but have no enmity towards each other. The discordance is in fact an integral part of the vibrant culture of Varanasi.
Though the film talks about the 90s when the movement for Ram temple in Ayodhya was at its peak and consequently, Babri Masjid was demolished. But the discussions among the characters come across as more relevant than ever.
Pandey ji, a content Brahmin who abhors change finds it torturous to decide a decides to break the old shiv temple in his house to accommodate a foreign tourist. And a comic situation makes this irony more intense. When Pandey ji talks about his dream that Lord Shiv wants to move to the roof from the small temple within the house, all the Brahmins of the mohalla start talking about their dreams bout the Shiv linga in their own houses because they also want to keep foreign tourists as tenants to earn some money.
A Dharm Sansad is called. And a group of Brahmins question Pandey about moving the statue from home. The discussion that ensues is gripping. The crux of which is that when God is in every particle of this universe how can the proof of His being at a particular place be provided? The constant refrain of Ram temple
When an American woman tells it to the face of every character gathered at Pappu's tea shop that Varanasi is dying, she is not absolutely wrong and the anger this statement causes is what we are going through- the anger and agitation which we feel when we refuse to accept the reality.
The film which has waited so long to get an approval, is worth a watch, to know about our own selves, the intricacies, contradictions and profundities of our society and faith.
Mentioning which I suddenly realise, the approval granted to this film has come close to the upcoming elections and the increasing discussions declarations and announcements by the right wing groups demanding Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Director Chandraparakash Dwivedi has definitely caught the pulse of the language spoken in Benaras, which is at once mixed with abuses and animated anomalies. The 'abuses’ in fact are no longer considered cuss words, they have become a way of saying.
Sakshi Tanwar is admittedly a good actress. Surprising is Sunny Deol in the role of the protagonist speaking chaste Hindi and chanting shlokas. He has tried his best to get rid of his Punjabi accent. He should do more of such meaningful films instead of the trash he keeps doing off and on.
Rest of the actors are senior ones who appear more as characters of Kashi than actors, which in itself is an achievement.
If you have read the book, you will enjoy the film and if you have lived in Banaras, then you might actually identify the shades of film's characters in the city.
The Ganga and Lord Shiva are two 'characters’ constantly being talked about as in reality too. The faith, the business and the politics of these two have been intertwined in our lives and amid the weird fusion of these elements, it's difficult to conserve the faith inherent in our spirit which is at once liberal, all encompassing, though very personal too.
Now, more than ever, it seems relevant to remember that.