Film: "Mohalla Assi"; Director: Chandraprakash Dwivedi; Cast: Sunny Deol, Sakshi Tanwar, Ravi Kishan, Saurabh Shukla, Mukesh Tiwari, Rajendra Gupta, Mithilesh Chaturvedi and Seema Azmi; Rating: **
One of the opening frames of the narrative tells us that the film is, "Dedicated to Lord Shiva and the people and culture of Varanasi".
Director Chandraprakash Dwivedi's "Mohalla Assi" is loosely based on Dr. Kashi Nath Singh's popular Hindi novel "Kashi Ka Assi". It is a satire on the commercialisation of Assi, a popular locality in the pilgrim city of Kashi aka Varanasi, which is situated on the banks of the holy river Ganga.
While one of the dialogues during the initial stage of the narrative states, "Corruption is our national character", the satire is about the corruption of the whole mindset, where survival being the bottom line is the only line, and how at Assi, Indian social and moral values are now replaced by the cold cynicism of human survival, in the name of globalisation.
The film is a fictionalised documentation of the degradation of the place and its people, spanning over a decade beginning from 1988 to 1998 and it incisively captures the lives of its people with aplomb. Especially; Dharamnath Pandey (Sunny Deol) a Sanskrit teacher who is an orthodox, upright "panda" and strictly against accommodating foreign tourists in Mohalla Assi as paying guests. Savitri (Sakshi Tanwar) is his nagging but considerate wife.
Kanni Guru (Ravi Kishan) is a tout and a shrewd opportunist who is ever-willing to make quick buck. Nekram Sharma (Faisal Rashid) is a street smart, sly and crafty barber who later becomes a yogi. And Catherine is an American who authors books on Benaras.
While there have been no discerning changes on the banks of the river or "Pappu Ki Dukaan", a restaurant where politics is discussed with the same passion and gusto as in New Delhi, it is the evolving attitude of its people that churns the narrative.
The performances of every actor are fairly appreciative, but it is the plot and the writing that fails to keep the narrative afloat. With no major inciting moments and a meandering, verbose and clunky exposition, the graph of the plot is flat. The dialogues, infused with local cuss words, over a period of time seem irritatingly forced and painful.
Overall, while the film captures the ethos astutely and is relevant in today's times, the treatment, look and feel of the film seem a bit outdated.