Varanasi in Films (Raanjhanaa)

The one place where imagined topography can never be challenged is the dream songs and sequences of Hindi films. Therefore, it’s justified when Raanjhanaa takes the picturesque and the commonplace from Banaras (and Ramnagar) and pastes them on screen as a collage in the song “Raanjhanaa main tera“. The images in the gallery below have been taken from the same song and they are from Ramnagar, Manikarnika Ghat, Godowlia and Assi. There are smooth shifts from one place to another, thus creating a kind of Banaras that isn’t there. It can never be.

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The same may not be so justified when used upon the locale to depict the place where action is taking place in the film, as it creates a pseudo-city that has never been there, or, in Baudrillardian terms a simulacrum of Banaras. Resisting the impulse to generalize it for films per se, it’s being asserted here that in Raanjhanaa a disjuncture is visible in the setting of the scenes or frames from one scene to the other, and specially within songs.

The disjuncture becomes conspicuous at many places, e.g. Zoya’s father teaches at one of the universities of Banaras. Shankar takes Bindiya there to break Zoya’s engagement with a doctor. Their scooter is shown reaching the University gate, that does not look like any of the entrances to BHU, but in the very next frame they are shown entering a building over whose wall Banaras Hindu university is painted.

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Another instance of imagined topography (that a non-Banarsi will not be able to suspect anything about) is Zoya’s father and some other Muslims coming out of the Dharhara Mosque at Panchganga Ghat. He lives at or around Assi according to the storyline. The Dharhara Mosque is deep within the galis of the pakki mahal. Google map shows that the distance between Assi Ghat and Panchganga Ghat is around four kilometres and the time taken to cover the distance is eleven minutes. Now, that may be true in any other place, and in Banaras between eleven at night to five in the morning, when a mad man rides a motorbike. It’s impossible to cover the same distance in any predictable time period under the light of the sun because of the high population and vehicle density of the zone. So, a person taking so much pains to reach a mosque so far away from his home, that too, when the mosque is not the central mosque of the city, is very far fetched.

I feel the pull of the comparison and contrast method, as I have Aparajito with me but that would be tantamount to blasphemy. Any film critic worth his salt will acknowledge that but the audience, that invests money and time in watching the whole film will not hesitate in doing so. Why? Because it was his time that he spent/invested/wasted on a film. Therefore, although I liked both the films and prefer them to all the other films with Banaras in them, I found that watching Aparajito had beenmore rewarding and its part shot in Banaras natural, free and worthy of repeated watching. The same can’t be said about the other film.

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

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