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.
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.
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. Urmila has already evolved into a fine actor and BANARAS – A MYSTIC LOVE STORY only cements her status further. Ashmit Patel is a revelation. Raj Babbar and Dimple Kapadia excel yet again. Babbar is competent all through, while Kapadia is outstanding in the climax. Naseeruddin Shah is first-rate.
On the whole, BANARAS – A MYSTIC LOVE STORY is a sensitively handled story that will earn immense praise from connoisseurs of meaningful cinema.