Sushant Singh Rajput-Sara Ali Khan Starrer Kedarnath And Mohalla Assi: Two Films To Keep You Entertained During The Weekend-PART 72

In our 72nd edition of Lockdown blues chasers, we have two interesting films. Sushant Singh Rajput-Sara Ali Khan starrer Kedarnath and Mohalla Assi; films to keep you entertained during the weekend. Read on

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Sushant Singh Rajput-Sara Ali Khan Starrer Kedarnath And Mohalla Assi: Two Films To Keep You Entertained During The Weekend-PART 72
Mohalla Assi (2018): There is a lot to be said about Varanasi, the holy city at the riverbank of the Ganga where culture and religion are the twin life-savers. Everything including gangajal is for sale in Varanasi. Based on Hindi litterateur Kashi Nath Singh’s Kashi Ka Assi, a scathing indictment of  merchandised  religiosity in Varanasi, Dwivedi’s freewheeling adaptation  doesn’t shy away from letting the narrative hang loose to accommodate  characters from different  strata and owing allegiance to polarized political interests which  seem to have a meeting point in the dhaba an  adda of ideas where political opinions are fired fearlessly. Some of the  thoughts  expressed on the communal conundrum  of this great nation of ours, are so steeped in relevance and immediacy that we have to remind ourselves that the  film is set during the years just before the demolition of the Babri  Masjid. So it isn’t surprising really, that one elderly  wise man  asks, “How can the Ram temple in  Ayodhya be built brick by brick? Have you ever heard of a temple built of bricks?”

This atmosphere of free speak allows renowned actors to come together for a pow-wow that is layered in sarcasm. At one point, Sunny Deol playing an impoverished semi-redundant  Brahmin priest tells his screen wife Sakshi Tanwar  that he must leave  for Ayodha to support the  construction of the Ram temple. “Why do you need to go to Ayodhya  to  encounter Ram? Just stay here and chant His name,” the wife snorts from her meal-time thali. While the first-half  of the film picks out characters with all their quirks  of radicalism and scatters them everywhere, it is the second-half that comes to grips with the crux of the theme. When all is said and done,  Mohalla Assi is not a film about the politic of  rhetorics. It is an intimate portrait of a social fabric falling into a cultural abyss. It is the story of  a Hindu priest Pandey (Deol) perched on the precipice of penury. As Pandey and his wife stare at a life of hopelessness for their children (they have to go to a neighbour’s home to watch television) all around them their neighbours bloom and  blossom by selling their souls and renting their rooms to tourists.

Dwivedi’s narration steers us into Pandey’s fear of losing his relevance to a society that’s left Sanskrit far behind and is now chasing the English language.  Deol and Tanwar are in fine form as the priest and his supportive yet discontented wife. Their scenes together are brimming with unstated emotions. Tanwar seems more comfortable as Deol’d better-half than she did as Aamir Khan’s wife in Dangal. In the way, Deol is coerced into compromising his cultural and religious purity I was reminded  of his father Dharmendra in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Satyakam. This is easily Deol’s most emotionally unalloyed performance. There are other actors contributing pitch-perfect performances that  give a swivelling spin to this saga of a downward spiralling social structure. Ravi Kisan is fabulous as a slimy tourist guide who knows which buttons to press  to get the right currency  out of the dharmic  vending machine. And Faisal Rashid as a bar at turned baba is a telling comment on  the cancerous spread  of consumerism. But my favourite sequences are between Sakshi Tanwar and  Seema Azmi, the latter playing a socially inferior neighbour who comes into affluence after her husband brings home a firangi  tourist. The two ladies nudge the wackiness of Varanasi’s cultural schizophrenia and the rampancy of adulterous sex in  the joly city, into a state of awakened bitchiness. They could be allies in a beauty parlour if they were parlour-worthy. Mohalla Assi may seem a bit scattered in its characterization. But eventually it proves as portentous and pungent as the city that its  brilliant cameraman (Vijay Arora)  captures in rolling waves of  gossiping monocracy.

Kedarnath (2018): It’s a pity that revealing the end of a film in a review is considered a spoiler. To me, a spoiler is that film which builds expectations and then dashes them to the ground. That  sinking feeling I got while watching  Thugs Of  Hindostan and 2:0 is more than atoned for by Kedarnath, a film shot in the heartland  of  pilgrims where a cataclysmic flood  devoured the entire topography, leaving in its wake  a sense of irredeemable devastation. What  if  Nature’s  fury were to be unleashed when a  a pair of lovers are denied their  right to be together? In Raj Kapoor’s  Satyam Shivam Sunderam, when a heart  is broken Nature weeps howls wails in protest. I  felt the same force of Nature here when the priest’s daughter Mukku is dragged out of her lovelorn state. As  the girl hypnotized  by love, Sara Ali Khan transports her character into a state of blissful  hypnosis. She mumbles her  beloved’s name (it’s, ahem,  Mansoor) while  her mother(Sonali Sachdev) tries  to shake  her out of her stupor. But Mukku would rather take  a rain check...and I do mean rain, since it is the rains tha  announce the full ferocity of Nature when Man crosses limits.

It is  clear to all that the screenplay (Abhishek Kapoor, Kannika Dhillon) doesn’t intend to exploit the 2013 floods in Uttarakhand. Rather the catastrophe is woven organically  into the plot. The narrative  gifts its characters a  space where matters  of  the heart  coalesce  with  the politics  of religion. This  is  not an easy  mix  to plough out of the heart-land. The  director is in no hurry. Until the mid-point we  see  only a  passion  erupt between Mukku and Mansoor  as they are thrown  together in strange  circumstances. Mukku’s single minded course of pursuing Mansoor would be called stalking in the ‘MeToo’ context. But this film exudes such a scent of nostalgia it makes Mukku’s  overtures  look cute rather than criminal. By the time the town  goes into  a mass protest  mode at the inter-religious love -match  it is time for  Nature to settle the score. Abhishek Kapoor films the water-inundated  climax with a stunning disposition. As  the  rainwater swells soars and destroys property and man we are made witness to an inexplicable  catastrophe.

There is  a curious subplot about this wheeler-dealer (played effectively by Nishant Dahiya) who  infiltrates  a pundit Nitish Bhardwaj’s home, promises to marry the elder daughter (Pooja Gor, effectively spiteful  in her sisterly rage ) changes his mind and wants  to marry the younger daughter instead. What a scamster this character is. The narrative scarcely  allows us to be judgemental. It has much on its mind. Not all of it is realized. The flood scenes are not  shot with the same finesse that we see  in  the  rest of the film. If the CGs do not match the  authenticity  of  a Marvel movie it is okay by us. Kedarnath doesn’t try to impress us with technique. It is all heart. The lead players are not abashed  about wearing their hearts  on their sleeve. Sara Ali Khan embraces the camera with the familiarity that her  mother actress Amrita  Singh  flaunted in her heydays. Saira’s character  is  as un-coy (to coin a word) about exhibiting her heart’s content as Amrita Singh  in Mard or Chameli Ki  Shaadi. Sara is a natural, while Sushant Singh Rajput’s  character is  so naturally noble it’s tough not to like him. The actor gives his all to his role, and then some more, leaving no room for his Mansoor to be judged for his religious beliefs. Thankfully, Mansoor is never shown doing Namaaz . He behaves  “normally” while the city’s Hindu radicals get all worked up into a state of whiplashing  lividity, much in the same way that they did in the director’s Kai Po Che.

There  are  some moments  of greatness peeking  out of the storytelling , like the sequence where Mansoor  tells Mukku how his  father once wrote a fan letter to  the  goddesss Lata Mangeshkar telling her how the Valley resonated to her voice when she sang. Mansoor then sings Lag Ja Gale Se for Mukku. Time stands still. Sushant brings a certain magic to this moment. At the end when Mukku sits to hear the radio, the same song is announced. But the song never plays.  That unfinished moment of parting best defines the film’s theme of unfinished  love. Have  you ever seen a great love story that doesn’t end in tragedy? This one does too.

Image source: IMDb, Youtube/RSPV Movie/Deewanasaika