Mohalla Assi could have had a phenomenal effect on our minds but winds up leaving the audience frustrated and annoyed with its jejune narrative…Spoilers ahead.
Neither Assi Ghat is a picnic spot nor Ganga river is a swimming pool. This is what Pandey (Sunny Deol) yells.. pardon, tells in a scene which sort of summed up the central theme that the movie revolves around. Mohalla Assi takes us into the late 1980s and the 1990s, touches upon some of the most prominent issues in India and we get to witness the divide in the society. In spite of having so much relevance in today’s world and terrifyingly relatable even after all these years, the movie is so leaden that I lost interest very early into the movie only to cope with its banal nature till the end.
Based on the Hindi novel Kashi Ka Assi by Kashi Nath Singh, the story of Mohalla Assi is set in Banaras. The movie explores the changing times in Assi Ghat, which is the southernmost ghat in Banaras, and we see it becoming a part of “global village”. However, Director Chandra Prakash Dwiwedi’s Mohalla Assi makes a futile effort to leave an impact with the kind of subjects that it delineates.
Pandey is a Brahmin and he is too strict about following the ideas of being a Brahmin. We see him shouting in the street and complaining about the chicken bones that he saw outside his house. Throughout the movie, we see that he won’t allow foreigners to rent houses and live amongst them as he believes they are deteriorating the Indian culture. To some extent, I was absorbed by the divisive ideology that the movie portrayed but it did not really hit me hard enough.
There is a lack of intensity when the film touches upon serious topics. The movie brings up the Mandal Commission implementation that mandates to identify socially and educationally backward classes of India. Also, there is a scene where Pandey gets shot in the leg while taking part in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and is being hailed by the people. In another scene, a Muslim guy, who hangs out with Pandey and other Hindu guys, is being questioned why he closes his shop when Hindu-Muslim agitation happens. I could understand the significance of these issues that is still prevalent in today’s world but wasn’t really moved at all.
Sunny Deol as Pandey does well to keep his calm under financial pressure but it is annoying to see him teaching Sanskrit to students. There are two contrasting scenes in the film at the start and towards the end showing that the number of students, who come to learn Sanskrit from him, have declined. The number did not decrease because of the exasperating way Sunny Deol chanted. It tried to show the changing times and how people are moving on to learn different things – in this case, English language.
But the performances of other supporting casts were phenomenal. Pandey’s wife (Sakshi Tanwar) makes us feel the gloominess when she has to make do with what limited money they have and put food on the plate to feed the children. She is also bold, expresses things as they are and uses swear words like randwa in the face of Pandey. But I did not like some of the soap opera-like melodramatic moments that transpires as Pandey and his wife are reeling under financial strain.
Ravi Kishan is amazing as the tour guide as he shows foreign tourists around and even has sex with some of the female ones. To prove that the movie is actually a political satire, there is a character called Barber Baba who used to be a small-time barber in Assi Ghat and, with the help of an American tourist, has become famous as a Barber Baba in the U.S. That’s another thing that it was more irksome than funny. Then there is Mithilesh Chaturvedi as one of the most senior guys and the hardliners among the people who Pandey hangs out with. He can be seen defending a guy who is selling ganja (cannabis) as he asserts that it is a part of Banaras for more than thousand years. He even scolds a foreign woman of having a bad influence on Indian culture. This film’s boldest attempt was to show even a Brahmin priest like Pandey and other guys using curse words – predominantly bosdike and chutiya.
The best performer of this movie was Seema Azmi as one of the frequent visitors of Pandey’s home. She is impressive during her funny interactions with Pandey’s wife and the yawning gulf between the two in their financial conditions brings out the feeling of despondency in us.
As the movie comes to a close, it was a huge sigh of relief of sitting through a dull movie. It is not heartening to see Pandey going through a change of heart. It is hardly satisfying to see him finally allowing a foreigner to rent a room in his home as he plans to let her daughter learn English and computers with the money he would earn through that foreigner. This is something which we would be already waiting to happen. But it happens after we have endured a drudging movie. This movie could have had a phenomenal effect on our minds but winds up leaving the audience frustrated and annoyed with its jejune narrative.