Varanasi in Some More Films


In Rajkumar Santoshi’s Ghatak (1996) the camera focusses on the city of Banaras at 13:57 minutes from the beginning and leaves the city for Mumbai at 23:34 minutes. Sunny Deol comes out of the river and rings a brand new brass bell while walking towards a temple – a temple that isn’t and a Nandi and Shivling probably made of plaster of Paris on that very day – a temple created for the film. A sparkling bell is shown dangling from the lintel of the arch way over the opening to the ghat. In Banaras, bells don’t dangle above the steps of ghats, they have their place which is inside the temple and the entrance to a ghat is not the entrance to a temple.

ghatak 2

Ghatak is an action film. So, the hero is a wrestler and his name (guess what!) is Kashi. His father, a respectable elder of the muhalla, is shown meeting people around Assi Ghat. He is well known among the people of the locality, i.e. he lives around somewhere, or, at least not very far from there. Later on, just before they leave the city, they are shown on the roof of their house, and from the ghatscape behind, one can make out that their house is near Harishchandra Ghat, as is clear from the palace on Chet Singh Ghat visible in the background in the image above. Thus the hero is shown at picutresque and characteristic locations of the city, while the film keeps suggesting that its the way life is lived in the city. Thus, the film not only creates an imagined topography but also supports the propagation of an imagined culture of the city.


The biggest scam using Varanasi’s name and a couple of images was Sangharsh (1968). The title rolls on while the camera caresses the majestic ghatscape of Banaras (and a flooded Gangaji). The film is based on “Mrs. Mahashweta Devi’s” Bangla novel Layli Asmaner Ayna. There’s a caption as the last of the credits are given: “Banaras: the Nineteenth Century”. The very opening scene shows a temple that troubled me for a really long time. I could not locate it in my city. Neither could I remember having seen the stone of the dark hue of that temple being used in construction in my city. It was later, while doing some research on this post, that I found out that the temple is in Maharashtra and the film was never shot in Banaras. There’s not a single scene of the film actually shot in the city. That, while the story is set in Banaras! The film takes exploitation of the audience’s “willing suspension of disbelief ” to the next level.

Raj Kapoor’s Ram Teri Ganga Maili shows the heroine’s entry in Banaras as a composite of shots showing the ghatscape, Varanasi Cantt. Railway Station and the streets of the city, without showing any of the characters in a frame with the city’s locations, i.e. the snapshots of the city were inserted in the film without any actual shooting in the city. That’s why the film’s story set in the city is shot mostly indoors. No attempt has been made to mask the artificiality of the set and the windows in the Madam’s house in Banaras, the place where the heroine is trained for her future profession, open on to the painted screens of the studios.

rtgm baba temple

The only other clippings of the city show, very obviously, Baba Vishwanath‘s temple where a character goes to worship the Lord of Kashi. Otherwise, this film, like Sangharsh presents Banaras only in name, as if the director was forced to do so because it was mentioned in the script.

The Chiranjeevi’s Telugu superhit Indra the Tiger (2002) was dubbed in Hindi too and I saw that version. The action shifts to Banaras in the beginning of the film as the hero moves to the city. The introduction to the city is same as that in the other films, i.e. the picturesque of the city has been highlighted. The majestic ghatscape of the city is shown in a series of screen shots, both in day and night times. Moreover, keeping the popularity of the city as a centre of pilgrimage in South India in view, various characters viz. the heroine’s family are shown coming to the city because of its religious significance. The audience is introduced to the city at the ninth minute from the beginning of the film.

The pasting of the ramdom picuresque together to form a collage city and the exploitation of the general audience’s ignorance of the topography mark this film too, like the others discussed in the post. The hero comes out of the river and the camera focusses alternately on him and on the (supposed) garbhagriha of Baba Vishwanth’s Temple. It’s very clear, like in Ghatak, that the temple isn’t real.


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