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Banaras fails to impress

Kathakali Jana is not too thrilled with Banaras. Here's why.

india Updated: Apr 08, 2006 21:38 IST

Banaras — A Mystic Love Story
: Urmila Matondkar, Ashmit Patel, Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Raj Babbarand Arif Zakaria
Director: Pankuj Parashar
Rating: **

Varanasi is photogenic, by day and by night. It has an aura of mysticism to boot, of which the young generation (bless it!) has no inkling. Therefore, this generation must be told about the all-embracing greatness of the city that is pervaded with the spirits of Buddha, Kabir, Tulsi and Shankaracharya, of the ancient Hindu religion that revels in the illusory nature of human existence.

Enter Shwetambari (Urmila Matondkar), a young Brahmin girl, and Soham (Ashmit Patel), a low caste mystic. They fall in love. If there is an anachronism in Shwetambari’s outfits — though we are taken back by 17 years, the lissome lass dresses in long skirts, capris and chandelier earrings that were the rage in 2005 — we shall ignore it. We shall concentrate on the plot instead, which thickens when all Varanasi is abuzz with the ‘incongruent’ love affair. And then Soham gets killed, occasioning Shwetambari’s transformation into a teacher of philosophy on distant shores, a Mataji, so to speak.

Despite a great cast and gorgeous photography, the movie failed to please

Amid all the mysticism and godliness, if there is a voice of reason, it must be silenced. In fact, the character of Gopal Bhattacharya — significantly a Bengali — has been brought in so Shwetambari can dismiss his rationality as a “confused” one. She actually converts him to her convictions. As a lollipop, the patient of lung cancer, supposedly in the final stage of the disease, is miraculously cured by her, too. Through this incident, Shwetambari’s healing powers are revealed to the world and to herself. After this, she goes on a humankind-saving spree.

One wonders what Ashmit Patel is doing amidst all this. He does best to redeem a role that is, at best, second fiddle to Shwetambari’s. But the poor guy has little to do except look good, which he does with immense conviction.
Urmila may have the longer role, but she, too, doesn’t impress. Only her relationship with her father (Raj Babbar) is well-etched and worth a mention.

Naseeruddin Shah as Soham’s teacher — it is revealed later that he died more than 100 years ago and appears only to those who look for him — appears alternately in red and white satin robes (the choice of attire is possibly guided by the backdrop and principles of colour coordination) and manages to make his role a convincing one. The sardonic smile on his face at the moment of Bhattacharya’s ‘salvation’ is a masterly touch. Arif Zakaria, Dimple Kapadia and Raj Babbar do their bit for the film, too.

Varanasi is eye candy to the agnostic who sits through the film for its fabulous photography. Bollywood has often boosted tourism in places it has chosen to play up. This one might do as much for the historic river city.

First Published: Apr 08, 2006 23:30 IST