Pankuj Parashar has attempted diverse films in his career: PEECHHA KARO, JALWA, CHAALBAAZ, RAJKUMAR, HIMALAY PUTRA, TUMKO NA BHOOL PAAYENGE and INTEQAM. For the first time in his career, the efficient storyteller tackles a film that combines a love story with spiritualism: BANARAS - A MYSTIC LOVE STORY.
Frankly, you ought to watch BANARAS - A MYSTIC LOVE STORY with an open mind. It's not one of those masala films that Hindi cinema is generally associated with. The film tackles the caste system [still prevalent in certain pockets of the country] and also looks at life not from scientific, but spiritual point of view. Look for answers within you, is the message the film tries to convey.
However, if the unadulterated, pure concept is its USP, it's also a downer since the theme and the execution of the subject are not the type that would appeal to those who tilt towards entertainment-driven stuff.
Artistic to the core and sensitively treated, BANARAS - A MYSTIC LOVE STORY caters to a niche audience. However, that's no consolation when you look at the efforts [and money] spent at the end of the day.
Shwetambari aka Shweta [Urmila Matondkar], the bright young daughter of rich Brahmin parents [Dimple Kapadia and Raj Babbar], studies science at the local university in Banaras. Sohan [Ashmit Patel], called Soham by Babaji [Naseeruddin Shah], is a low caste mystic who teaches music at the University. When the two fall in love, hell breaks loose.
At first, Shweta's parents disapprove of the match, but when truth dawns upon them that Soham is a Hindu, they decide to get the lovers engaged. Even the marriage date is fixed, but on the day of marriage news filters in that Soham has been murdered. A shattered Shweta decides to abandon the very city she loves the most. In despair, she turns inwards to look for answers.
Seventeen years later, Shweta, now a world teacher in philosophy and religion, is confronted with a final choice -- whether to return to Banaras to meet her dying father or to continue to deny all attachments. When she returns to Banaras, the sleeping demons and the dark secrets lying underneath erupt like a dormant volcano.
Delicately treated BANARAS - A MYSTIC LOVE STORY may come across as a love story on the surface, but the moment the titles end and layer after layer is peeled, you realize that there's more to the film than the love story of an upper caste girl and a lower caste boy.
The spiritual journey of the protagonist -- Urmila -- is treated with utmost sensitivity. From being the doting daughter to rich Brahmin parents, to her fondness for a lower caste boy, to the tumultuous events that change her life, right till the climax, when all unanswered questions are answered, every sequence in the film has been composed and executed with rare maturity.
The film is rich in emotions and the concluding reels -- Urmila returning to Banaras to meet her dying father -- take the film to an all-time high. Keep your kerchief handy at this stage, for the concluding 20 minutes are sure to melt even the stone-hearted. Without doubt, it's the highpoint of the enterprise.
On the flip side, a film like BANARAS - A MYSTIC LOVE STORY has its limitations. Although the subject matter is aimed at a universal audience, the theme as also the slow pacing wouldn't really excite every strata of the movie-going audience.
Irrespective of how this film fares, director Pankuj Parashar will earn a lot of respect for his handling of the material. Beautifully shot and excellently treated, BANARAS - A MYSTIC LOVE STORY is -- from the aesthetic point of view -- Parashar's finest work to date. His handling of the emotional moments take you by complete surprise since Parashar has never ever attempted a film on relationships.
The review would be incomplete without acknowledging cinematographer Nirav Shah's contribution. Not only are the stunning locales of Banaras beautifully captured on celluloid, even the texture of the film is of international quality. Himesh Reshammiya's music is okay, although the background score [Surender Sodhi] is far more effective. Dialogues [Javed Siddiqui] are natural and seem straight out of life.
Urmila has already evolved into a fine actor and BANARAS - A MYSTIC LOVE STORY only cements her status further. Watch her in sequences when she gets to know that Ashmit has been murdered or towards the finale, when she returns to her dying father, and you'd agree that only an accomplished actor could've portrayed the part so proficiently.
Ashmit Patel is a revelation. The youngster, who didn't make much headway as an actor in his earlier films, gets to prove his mettle in this film and he impresses tremendously.
Raj Babbar and Dimple Kapadia excel yet again. Babbar is competent all through, while Kapadia is outstanding in the climax when she reveals the truth. Naseeruddin Shah is first-rate. Akash Khurana is highly competent. Arif Zakaria [cop], Rajiv Mishra [Maha Maya], Javed Khan, Om Katare and Perveez leave an impression as well.
On the whole, BANARAS - A MYSTIC LOVE STORY is a sensitively handled story that will earn immense praise from connoisseurs of meaningful cinema. But the film has very little to offer to the masses, which in turn will reflect in its overall business. A strong word of mouth from the gentry/elite should help its business at select multiplexes.