'Mohalla Assi', Featuring Sunny Deol, Is About More Than Just Profanity And Ganja

17/06/2015 8:40 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Vijay Kumar/YouTube

Suddenly, we find ourselves in a year that will see two long-delayed releases starring Sunny Deol.

After 'I Love NY', in which the actor formerly known for starring in action movies pairs off against Kangana Ranaut in a rom-com, the trailer of 'Mohalla Assi' has surfaced online. Directed by Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi, who is best known for directing the '90s TV shows 'Chanakya' and 'Mrityunjay' as well as period drama 'Pinjar' (2003), 'Mohalla Assi' seems to be a satire set in the holy city of Varanasi.

Reportedly based on the 2004 Hindi novel 'Kashi Ka Assi' by acclaimed writer Dr Kashinath Singh, which features real conversations by real people living in the popular tourist destination, Dwivedi's film casts Deol as a conservative Sanskrit teacher. He looks down upon foreign tourists who come to Varanasi merely to smoke pot and indulge in sexual exploits by using the choicest of cuss-words to describe his feelings for them.

The film also stars Ravi Kishen as an opportunistic tour guide and Sakshi Tanwar as Deol's equally-foul-mouthed wife. It was shot in 2011, but was shelved. According to The Indian Express, the film's producer, Vinay Tiwari, has now confirmed that the film will release in "October-November".

Watch the trailer of 'Mohalla Assi' below.

The word 'assi' in the title refers to the Assi stream, one of two (along with Varuna) that came together to give the city its name. In an interview to The Hindu in mid-2013, Dr Singh spoke about how life changed at the city's Assi ghat especially post the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991. A slow trickle of foreigners, mainly those studying at the Benares Hindu University (BHU), suddenly turned into a steady stream and changed life in the neighbourhood forever. "For Rs 500, they were provided food, laundry and housing facilities. In return, the foreigners would often pay for their hosts' children's education as well. A bond emerged," he was quoted as saying, adding that this cultural exchange led to a noticeable change in the lifestyles of their hosts' families as the "women started wearing maxis and the children jeans".

It is this near-epochal transition that Dr Singh — who won the Sahitya Akademi award in 2011 for his novel 'Rehan Ka Ragghu' — captured in 'Kashi Ka Assi', which the film has presumably attempted to recreate.

The discovery of the film's trailer has been covered by various publications, such as FirstPost, for the 'shock value' in its casual use of profanity. One scene that stands out in particular is that featuring a man dressed up as Lord Shiva casually using expletives while appearing in what seems like a dream sequence with Deol's character. Given that the Aamir Khan starrer 'PK' became the subject of controversy for showing a character dressed as Lord Shiva in a public toilet, it will be interesting to see how the same parties react to this film.

What's even more interesting is that Dr Dwivedi is currently a member of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC, commonly referred to as the Censor Board), which has in recent times rather infamously been cracking down upon profanity in Hindi movies since filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani took over as chairman. Dr Singh has told The Hindu about how we was threatened with death and physical violence for some of the content in the book.

However, when speaking to the Indian Express in 2011 about 'Rehan Ka Ragghu', it seems apparent that he considers 'Kashi Ka Assi' one of his best works. "I had lost hope of getting any award for Kashi Ka Assi. It was a popular novel but was often dismissed because of liberal use of the language with local flavour. Logon ne use gaaliyon ka pulinda hee man liya (people dismissed it as a collection of abuses)," he had said. This isn't the only adaptation of Dr Singh's novel — 'Kashi Ka Assi' has also been adapted to the stage by noted theatre director-actor Usha Ganguly as 'Kashinama'.

The impending release of this movie has given birth to a strange conundrum. If Dr Dwivedi's presence in the Board allows this film to pass without cuts, while several other films such as 'NH10', 'Hunterrr', and even 'Court' were subject to ridiculously stringent censorship, it would be highly unfair. However, given the legacy of the source material, it would be a shame if the film were censored beyond recognition and/or not allowed to release because of its content, which functions as a document of a crucial period in the history of the oldest city in the world.

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