Varanasi in Films

Raanjhanaa Assi Ghat

The first frame of Raanjhanaa (2013) shows the protagonist at a hospital in New Delhi. He starts narrating his story and his story takes the audience to his his place and his city: the Assi muhalla in Kashi. The film presents the city very lovingly as it is a part of the protagonist Shankar’s identity. The picturesque is highlighted and in the process an imagined topography is put into place through the process of collage making. It’s not unique, the collage making, to this film. Actually Raanjhanaa is a part of the long tradition of Hindi films that create their own topography on screen.

In the beginning, the little Shankar is shown collecting donation for Raavan Dahan with his gang. They reach Zoya’s house and take a hundred rupees from her father. Children going around for such purpose, and on foot, normally cover their neighbourhood only, otherwise they risk challenging some other person’s hegemony over their area. Shankar had declared very proudly that he belonged to Assi. So Zoya’s house ought to be within the maximum radius of five to seven hundred metres, taking Assi Ghat as the centre of the circle.

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Zoya and her father are shown flying kites from her roof top. The snap of the scene given above reveals her house’s location. The camera covers and arc of nearly 180 degrees while they fly kites. The arc includes multi-storeyed buildings and the kind of construction that helps us place it somewhere along the street joining Sankatmochan to Banaras Hindu University which is beyond the radius mentioned above.

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Shankar is shown at and around Assi ghat regularly with the objective to establish his identity and to fix his locus in the film. So, according to the script of the film, the boy and the girl live at or around Assi. The girl asks the boy, after slapping him fifteen times, to meet her across the river at the King’s Palace in Ram Nagar. The palace is beautiful and provides a wonderful opportunity for the cameraman to linger over the river beyond the palace.

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The long shots with the river filling the whole frame appear again and again in the film at important junctures, e.g. the two friends discussing at roof when Bindiya reaches there, and then that scene in which the protagonist is shown lying on the parapet of his roof. In both the scenes mentioned above the frame is beautified by Gangaji behind. The picturesque in Banaras acts like an addiction to those behind the lens – be it a photographer or a cameraman. How can they resist the its charm, even when the cost to be paid is imposing the picturesque upon the plot. The chase sequence (that ends with Shankar’s tearing the shirt of Bindiya’s father on Holi as he had pledged to do that in his childhood) in the galis of Kashi withshots taken from the rooftops captures the roofscape and the galis very well.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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