Director – Neeraj Ghaywan
Cast — Richa Chadha, Vicky Kaushal, Sanjay Mishra and Shweta Tripathi
India is all about contrasts – while parts of it are urbane and progressive, there is the ground reality, which is very dark and draconian. And filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan has tackled this very disparity rather tactfully in his first film. The film is set in Varanasi, the Hindu bastion and a chaotic patch where people come to worship, moan and drown their sorrows in the mucky Ganges; where the bones crumble into ashes at the same time as the temple bell tolls. It is any filmmaker’s candy land and Ghaywan has done the right thing by choosing this realm of turmoil to tell his story, because this film is Varanasi.
Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) pokes and prods the dead bodies so stoically, devoid of any sort of emotion because that’s what his family does at the ghat by the banks of Ganges. A corpse burner at night, he is an engineer in the making during the day. You don’t see traces of the corpse burner while he is trying to desperately vie for Shaalu’s attention (ShwetaTripathi), an upper cast girl who he meets by chance in a rather amusing circumstance.
And then there’s Devi (Richa Chadha), though a small-town girl who is a daughter of a retired Sanskrit scholar, she is full of spunk and is brave and daring. In an attempt to quench her thirst of curiosity, she decides to have sex with her boyfriend. As fate would have it, their intimacy is interrupted by the local cops who blow the situation out of proportion.The inspector even takes barely-clothed videos of Devi in order to threaten to put it up on Youtube if her father,Vidyadhar (Sanjay Mishra) doesn’t gather Rs 3 lakhs in 3 months.There is no connection between Deepak and Devi whatsoever, except the fact that they are both from the same town. But the story unfolds when in some Karmic way, without them even realizing, their lives intersect. The film sends out a message of irony – while bodies are burnt in this pious land for the liberation of the soul or moksha, the actual lives are trapped in a labyrinth of societal stigmas.
Vicky is brilliant as Deepak. He wears the cloak of a sweet little boy smitten by this damsel with the same ease as that of boy belonging to the Dom community. Shweta’s brief portrayal of Shaalu is endearing too. You also get a sense of satisfaction when seasoned actors like Sanjay Mishra are finally getting their due – he is perfect for the role. But in all that reality, Chadha, as talented as she is, with her perfectly groomed hair seems like the odd one out.Her face is so deadpan that at times you wonder if it is her character or her inability to emote.
The film is flawless in its scripting and screenplay, but the real award goes to the cinematographer. We see Varanasi in its true form through the eyes of Avinash Arun. If you had to choose all the films that take us through an India that is real and rustic, this one probably would rank among the first few. But where it disappoints is in its predictability; with all those profound connotations, as the movie ends you are expecting something more and you walk out of the theatre still wanting something more and a wee bit of dissatisfaction.
Rating — ****1/5