Banners: Crossword Entertainment, Wisdomtree Productions
Producer: Vinay Tiwari
Director: Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi
Cast: Sunny Deol, Sakshi Tanwar, Ravi Kishan, Saurabh Shukla, Faisal Rashid, Mukesh Tiwari, Rajendra Gupta, Mithilesh Chaturvedi
Writers: Kashinath Singh, Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi
Music: Amod Bhat
Mohalla Assi is based on Dr Kashinath Singh’s popular Hindi novel Kashi Ka Assi. The novel is set in 1990-98, a timeline followed by the film as well. The film tries to capture the satire of the novel with some poignant questions that manage to hit home.
Dharmnath Pandey is a Sanskrit teacher and pandit in Kashi. A staunch follower of practices laid down by his ancestors, Pandey is in dire straits and unable to provide for his wife Savitri and his children. Kanni, a tourist guide, is an expert at dealing with foreigners who flock to Kashi to learn Hindi, Sanskrit, religion or are just here to imbibe some ‘spirituality’.
He arranges for accommodation and makes other arrangements for these foreign tourists, thus making money for the locals as well as for himself. While many people open their homes to tourists, Assi Ghat and its residents refuse to do so. They are egged on by Pandey, who feels that this will corrupt age-old traditions. Then there is Nekram, a barber by profession, who too is trying to make ends meet at the ghats. A chance encounter with an American woman changes the course of his life.
Amid all this social drama is a political commentary on the rise of Hindutva forces, the issue of the Ram Mandir and the agitation in Ayodhya as well as the Mandal Commission. The story attempts to touch on all these points while taking the audience on the emotional and philosophical journey of Pandey.
Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi, who has helmed this film, has tried to say a lot in 120 minutes. The film looks dated, but the commentary is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago, when the film is set. The camera captures every aspect of Kashi beautifully. The ghat, the homes, the lanes and bylanes, every aspect of the city is brought alive on screen. The dialogue is provocative and forces you to question the state of the country today. But the narrative seems disjointed and gets confusing towards the end.
Performance-wise, Sunny Deol as the helpless Pandey is miscast. No doubt he is a good actor, but this role does not suit him. He neither has the physicality nor the dialect for the part. Sakshi Tanwar as Savitri plays her part well. Ravi Kishan as Kanni is a delight to watch. Fasial Rashid as Nekram had probably the strongest character arc. From a barber to a baba, he epitomises the change in society from need-based to want-based. He does well with his character. The film also boasts talented actors like Saurabh Shukla, Rajendra Gupta, Mukesh Tiwari and Mithilesh Chaturvedi. They all add to the political and social commentary in the film, but when the story seems to be going nowhere, everything fails to impress.