‘Mohalla Assi’ Traces Tumultuous Years in Indian Political History
‘Mohalla Assi’ is loosely based on Dr Kashinath Singh’s popular Hindi novel ‘Kashi Ka Assi.’
Mohalla Assi Traces Tumultuous Years in India’s Political History
Mohalla Assi had to brave many a storm to finally reach us. The dated look and feel of the film bears testimony to this.
In 2015, the release of the film was stayed by the Delhi High Court for allegedly hurting religious sentiments. It subsequently was leaked online. Then the makers, after years of tweaking the original screenplay, finally managed an A certificate and release.
I am not sure if what we have received as the final product was what director Chandra Prakash Dwivedi originally envisaged. In its present form, Mohalla Assi can be described as the curious case of two parts that don’t match.
Mohalla Assi, loosely based on Dr Kashinath Singh’s popular Hindi novel Kashi Ka Assi, is a satire on the state of the pilgrimage city and how spiritualism has been held hostage to commercialisation.
Pre-interval, it gives us a glimpse of all the greatness the film could have reached if allowed to stay true to the original story. The vibrant Assi Ghat catches our attention where things move at their own pace, quite like the rhythmic thumbing of prayer beads.
Pulsating with fiery speeches and expletive banter, friends belonging to various political ideologies descend in Pappu ki Dukaan – a humble tea stall that acts like a symbolic “mini parliament” where the different ideas about India and Kashi intermingle. Life is in a constant flux.
The year is 1988 and through the decade, it traces some very tumultuous years in Indian political history. From the Mandal Commission and the student protests that raged across the country, to whipping up passions for the Ram janam bhoomi and the eventual Babri Masjid demolition.
The people in this closely-knit mohalla are trying to settle in with the changing times. Some rue the erosion of Kashi’s innate values, others question the frenzy of religious passions for vote bank politics. Caught between all this is an otherwise well-meaning but orthodox Pandit Dharamnath Pandey. The new social dynamics push him to question and introspect his own set of prejudices and biases.
Sunny Deol reciting Sanskrit shlokas is quite a sight. And frankly, his discomfort is so evident that one half-expected him to break into “ye dhai kilo ka haath” mid-shloka.
On the other hand, playing his onscreen wife, Sakshi Tanvar is flawlessly resplendent. Her tonality is pitch-perfect and shape-shifts on cue. Brilliant as both the sar-par-pallu, dutiful wife with downcast eyes, and the feisty, sharp-tongued better-half nudging her husband to bend his rules to accommodate changing times.
But post interval, it all goes south. The electrifying political ruminations become domestic in nature. The script almost grovels, to try and not meddle much in matters of god or man-made god. The obsequious turn of things completely ruins what could otherwise have been a radical, thought-provoking critique of the political scenario.
It felt like watching two disjointed films. One could only hope and pray that some divine intervention nudges them back on track. But that wasn’t to be. So as things stand, I’ll go with 2 Quints out of 5!
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