Sunny Deol – the erstwhile Bollywoood’s man of such imposing brawn, the trendsetting dhai kilo ka haath that essayed his legacy in Bollywood action in such a way that he just didn,t played them, he reinvented them, gets into a rare avatar in this satrical drama.
MOHALLA ASSI sees a rare combo of Bollywood’s icon of action packed escapisms Sunny Deol coming together with the hard hitting sensibilities of a filmmaker like Chandraprakash Dwivedi (Pinjar, Zed Plus and the epic historical tv series Chanakya). With a plot based on Kashi Nath Singh’s 2004 novel KASHI KA ASSI based on true events in India during 1990 and 1998 at the helm, things looks quite interesting.
Aamir Khan starrer PK, Akshay Kumar’s OMG – OH MY GOD!, spoke about commercialization of religion and got the audience involved, Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s MOHALLA ASSI is more ambitious as a subject. It’s hard hitting and real, a conflict of ideas that are running and ruining our mind and country. It’s a cry; it’s a rant, its takes stand, sometimes satirical, sometimes emotional and sometimes a bit angry as well. If you are aware of the political scenario in the country since the late 80’s then MOHALLA ASSI will connect you instantly. Taking into consideration that you have a liking towards cinema that is not just paisa vasool entertainment. Further, if you are aware about Varanasi and the said Assi ghat in the movie, which a couple of years ago was nothing but a dirty canal, then much better.
Coming back to the core issue, Chandraprakash Dwivedi opens MOHALLA ASSI in circa 1988. Pandeyji (Sunny Deol), a Sanskrit teacher and a priest is against providing shelter to foreign tourists in their homes. Sakshi plays Pandeyji’s obedient wife. The banks of the Ganges, is filled with foreign tourist, guides like Kanni Ravi Kishan who cashes on foreigners drive for Indian exotica and offers them accommodations of the locals on the ghat as rent. A place filled with fake baba and real baba, the simile of fact and fiction finds a healthy debate at a place called Papu ki chai ki dukaan –the intellectual hub of Assi, where every happening in the world is discussed and thankfully there is an ear for every opinion. Chandraprakash Dwivedi replaces the original clay chai kullads (cups) with the larger steel ones in this movie which has fought production delays, opposition, threats for the last 6 – 7 years and finally seen the light.
Still the issues discussed in MOHALLA ASSI are still alive. In reality it is said that the discussions over cups of chai and paan would see participants from various fields - professors, lawyers, poets, artists and student leaders, theories, philosophies, without anecdotes from Tulsidas etc was the point of attraction. A line from the movie says, “ This country is run by tow parliaments, one in Delhi and the one at the ghat”. Here the movie takes the mode of a theatre, a street play and we have more dialogues and less action, though the satire is present.
An ensemble of actors that includes Mukesh Tiwari as the right wing leader and he excels. Saurabh Shukla as the neighbor of Sunny Deol is fantastic. Rajendra Gupta is excellent and Mithilesh Chaturvedi is competent. Ravi Kishan is perfect. Sakshi Tanwar has her moments. The satire then takes turns dramatically and turns political later there is an emotional outburst when Pandeyji for the better future of his family and seeing the death of Sanskrit decides to give his place for rent.
In a touchy scene and perhaps the defining moment of the movie that happens during the last 10 – 15 minutes, which is metamorphic in telling it all and concludes, the movie gets back to its roots and achieves the core idea.
Beyond any iota of doubt, Chandraprakash Dwivedi is capable of doing something much better out of this but still it’s good, which can be very good for others.
MOHALLA ASSI, may not be the perfect satire but it is ‘perfectly timed’. Sunny Deol in a rare avatar is a pleasant surprise, the Bollywood action king has not punched anyone on screen literally but his performance packs the right punch with punches of philosophy, good deed and occasional slang coming nicely.
At times when we have pointless, single minded debates on channels, Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s MOHALLA ASSI tells the story from other side as well, the argument on faith, believe, the commercialization of religion, globalization, dominance, insecurity and one holy river the Ganges, so much for a two hour cinema that tries to prove a point, isn,t it too much for the holy Ganges as well, the pandeyji’s of this nation who knew what happened when and how and to us as well who claim to care about our country and its traditions.