Mohalla Assi Review
The film opens with a wonderful piece of Indian classical music (a Dhrupad composition) that is an invocation to Shiva, the resident deity of Benaras. The starting credits say that a poem (rather political in nature) by India's finest poet Kashinath Singh is included in the film. That is classy indeed, and one is forced to sit up and take notice. But it doesn't take long for beautiful opening shots of the city waking up to descend into the commonplace when we see a smooth-talking motormouth tourist guide Ginni (played wonderfully by Ravi Kishan) pick up tourists from the railway station and bring them into town.
The film was stuck at the Censors for six years, and you soon know why: there is politics of the temple (a politically charged kindling if you talk against it), there is the unfortunate aftermath of the breaking down of the mosque at Babri (the hero believes sentiment about the birthplace of Lord Ram is more important that the law), and the rational beings discussing these things over tea are no longer relevant. The attempt to cling on to traditions is good, but the only way the film shows the new as bad is to show foreign tourists desperate for sex, show them throwing dollars at anything Indian, and Indians so greedy for money, they will lie and cheat and cook up schemes to satisfy their needs...
The banality of the events in these tourist trap places is horrifying. A character dressed up as the God Shiva (played by Daya Shankar Pandey) takes hundred rupees for posing with tourists and 200 if they should want a stream of water flowing from his hair. The hairdresser gathers information from people he shaves as to where a 'foreign' woman could find decent accommodation near the Assi Ghat (the Southernmost Ghat in the city, a famous landmark of Benaras, popular with tourists and worshippers alike). The cops hapless in front of the teashop regular, literally standing on a bench pontificating about how Bhang was not a drug, but a tradition of Benaras and a religious right, because Shiva consumed it...
By the time the story comes around to saying something, you are bored. Even though they use the local virulent word for 'bastards' as though everyone in the film was Samuel L Jackson. And that includes the women. It was not even funny to begin with, and then it gets tedious. You wonder why they chose Sunny Deol to play Dharam Nath Pandey, a traditionalist, a priest happy to teach Sanskrit to kids for a pittance. Though Sunny is adequate in the tough guy act, the language does him in. He has worked hard on the Sanskrit diction but the whole thing seems pointless in the end. Sakshi Tanwar is the stereotypical wife, praying to the Gods and cooking for the family. The end where the adamant Pandit has to accept the non Hindu Marlene as a paying guest in his home (and hence God has left him) brings back a new Shiva home... Everyone lives happily ever after is like a nothing burger.
The ensemble cast of Tiwari-ji, Upadhyay-ji, Chaturvedi-ji, Chaubey-ji and others are played by veteran actors Saurabh Shukla, Srichandra Makhija, Rajendra Gupta and Mukesh Tiwari. But all that posing and pontificating comes to nothing. Except that you do not wish to go anywhere near religion and righteousness in a film, ever.
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