Director: Dhiraj Kumar
Cast: Sharman Joshi, Aishwarya Devan, Govind Namdev
My excitement regarding Kaashi: In Search of Ganga was palpable, as anybody who read my review of its teaser last month, may have guessed. Now though, my disappointment knows no depths. Given that I have (as have you all) earlier been bowled over by Sharman Joshi’s hilarious yet heart-breaking performance in his last major outing in 3 Idiots, I wasn’t expecting him to give his nod to a project as illogical and disconnected as Kaashi.
So this is how it goes: Kaashi, a corpse-burner from the Dom community in Kaashi/Banaras, is an aggressive, short-tempered chap who doesn’t believe in mincing words or mind raining blows at the drop of a hat. And of course he is also a devout Bholenath bhakt. How do we know this? Because in the first five minutes itself, Kaashi is seen rescuing a woman (journalist Devina played by Aishwarya Devan) from two really seedy-looking ruffians trying to get too friendly with her. He roars at them, beats them up black and blue and in the process wins a friend in Devina. But not before we are made to watch a terribly unimpressive semi-taandav dance preluding this scene and cringe at the excessive use of “Bholenath ki kasam” in these 5 minutes. Oh, and all of this fiasco happens during Holi (jeez how can it not? There’s Bholenath, there’s bhaang, there’s colours flying all around, there’s eve-teasing on the pretext of bura-na-maano-Holi-hai).
Anyway, Devina, who for no apparent reason seemed fascinated by Kaashi from the word go and was clicking him left, right and center in the introductory scene, now has a valid reason to ask him to take her around the city and help her with a piece on the same. Kaashi obliges, and he must, else how would we have a love story bang in the middle of a thriller that looks so wimpy it would make you cry?!
Amidst the boat rides, strolling on the streets of Banaras and bonding over lassi (specifically the clichéd wiping-the-lassi-moustache from the hero’s face), love blooms between the two. This is also when Kaashi introduces Devina to his family – his parents and his sister Ganga (Priyanka Singh), the crux of the movie. There’s plenty of oversharing between the parents and the son, cringe-worthy bhaiyya-behna scenes between Kaashi and Ganga, and a Devina who behaves more like a potential bahu than a journalist on a mission. If you aren’t weary and rolling your eyes yet, you will. Soon. Because all of this also leads to unfettered passion, and an extremely unnecessary, contrived sex scene between Kaashi and Devina, likely to only grab eyeballs given that it has absolutely NO relevance to the plot. None. Not even in building some half-decent chemistry between the two. It’s yawn-worthy and callously B-grade-ish (I seriously have no other word to describe the same).
A steamy affair as Kaashi and Devina’s should ideally have had some padding later on, and make a smooth transition before gently nudging us towards mystery land. Instead, from a seedily shot sex scene against the backdrop of “Zindagi guzaarne ke liye, dost ki nahi, hamsafar ki zaroorat hoti hai, mere hamsafar banoge toh bolo,” we go to, “Ganga abhi tak college se aayi nahin hai.”
And then begins the roller-coaster ride. More like, a tumultuous journey of twists and turns that had amazing potential but crashed to the ground before it could even take off.
I’ll tell you why.
For starters, the script and the direction is atrocious. For instance, right from the opening scene where you see a chained, dishevelled Kaashi being led to a cell and then scratching the walls of his cell with a spoon, you experience this sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach – why does it look so put-on? And then you hear the doctor saying something to the effect of, “at least he is not engaged in nonsense” and you realize your apprehensions are coming true: this movie is going to be a massive dhokha in the disguise of a thriller.
Every scene thereafter (barring a few genuinely decent ones) oozes with So.Much.Overacting.Its.Not.Funny. It is clear the makers do not trust our judgment, intelligence or intuition in getting the craft of filmmaking right. At one point my husband audibly even let out his exasperation, “Yeh toh 90s se bhi bekaar hai”.
I’ll go with his verdict. It is worse than what we had to endure in the 90s – from start to finish. There are too many melodramatic dialogues beginning and ending with “Mahadev ki kasam”, a horribly directed scene portraying Ganga’s affair with Abhimanyu (a crooked politician’s weird-looking son), bad editing, bad music, absurd supporting performances, a second half that is centered on looking for Ganga to proving her very existence, damp cinematography, an illogical climax…. Phew! The list goes on…
The writing is so loose and the chronicling, so disjointed, it makes you wonder if the director just woke up from a slumber, skipped a few scenes because he was bored (or maybe the script was too tedious) and deliberately threw in a few twists and turns to make it ring true to its genre instead. The grating, annoying, maddening background score (underlined by a pronounced metallic KAASHI, KAASHI, MAHADEV, BHOLENATH, you get the drift right?) doesn’t help one bit either. But might I say the casting trumps the list of cardinal sins the makers have committed with this project?
Sharman Joshi as Kaashi is appallingly miscast. From the taandav dance in the beginning to the show of aggression to the out-of-the-blue “Mahadev ki kasams” dropping out of thin air to line after line of histrionic dialogue-delivery, this is so not a role he should have taken up. He is earnest, some flashes of his talent remain, but they are in no way sufficient to hide the glaring flaws in this movie. Aishwarya Devan as Devina is tepid and totally passable. Considering she is a famous name down south, I am not really sure why she had to try her luck in Bollywood and ruin it all. She cannot act. Period. If I didn’t know she was a lead in the movie, I wouldn’t even notice, and I definitely wouldn’t care, it’s that bad.
Govind Namdev as the twisted politician has had better performances as the bad guy. In Kaashi, he looks just as stereotypical and farcical as the other characters. The supporting characters mostly look like they’re amateurs trying to get their foot in the door. Even theater actor Manoj Joshi known for his tickle-worthy performances in Phir Hera Pheri, Bhagam Bhaag, Hulchul and Bhool Bhulaiyya starts off on a promising note, but fizzles out too soon. A special mention for the actors playing Ganga and Abhimanyu, whose careers have collectively taken a tumble and may take a long, long time to recover from the shock. This dreadful casting along with the lacklustre narration makes me now want to watch reruns of Savdhaan India season 1, 2, 3, 4 and more so I can feel my adrenaline kicking in.
In the second half of Kaashi, a psychotherapist announces with laboured sobriety: It’s a serious case of schizophrenia.
There. I rest my case.
Rating: 2/5 (only because Joshi tries his darnedest best to save this film)