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Banaras movie review: Jayathirtha's promising time loop saga is meandering, indecisive

Zaid Khan puts on a good debut show alongside the charming Sonal Monteiro in 'Bell Bottom' Jayathirtha's ambitious science-fiction love story.

3/5rating
Banaras movie review: Jayathirtha's promising time loop saga is meandering, indecisive
Sonal Monteiro is paired with debutant Zaid Khan in the film
  • Swaroop Kodur

Last Updated: 01.26 PM, Nov 05, 2022

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Spoilers Ahead

Story:

Siddharth (Zaid Khan), a bustling 20-year-old college student, attempts a prank on Dhani (Sonal Monteiro) which goes cruelly wrong, causing her to leave town and find a home in Banaras. Overwhelmed with guilt, Siddharth sets out behind Dhani to seek forgiveness and in these pursuits, he encounters a life-changing experience which involves him inadvertently shuffling back and forth in time. Can Siddharth break the spell and find what his heart is truly after?

Review:

A time travel movie, when done well, is a satiating brain teaser. First, there's the rush of tagging along with the protagonist in their complex journey, then the lure of understanding the definitive principles of that world, and finally the anticipation of a fitting payoff that's far beyond your mental grasp. In a sense, the rules of this subgenre are set in stone, more or less, but what's different each time is the setting and the emotional context of the narrative. 

Hollywood alone has further classified 'Time Travel' into countless categories ranging from endearing love stories like About Time and Palm Springs to high-stakes thrillers like Source Code and Looper. And among the Indian films, Venkat Prabhu's recent loopy thriller Maanadu comes as a credible addition to the list.

Now, in this regard, Jayathirtha's Banaras is a one-of-a-kind film because the concept of a time loop or travelling back and forth in time is employed mainly as a resolution to a problem that's very human. Jayathirtha, known for films like Bell Bottom, Beautiful Manasigalu, and Olave Mandara, has revealed time and again his penchant for stories of romance that are tender, troubled and one finds this facet showing up in Banaras as well, except that his protagonist undertakes an inward journey instead of fighting external agents. Through his guilt-ridden hero, the filmmaker attempts a story about redemption and coming-of-age, and fascinatingly, he uses science fiction and time-travelling as his main tools. But does he succeed in this rather intriguing pursuit? Well, to a certain degree, yes.

"I am from the future," says Siddharth to Dhani (Sonal Monteiro) in the opening scene of Banaras before revealing that he is also her husband in the time to come. Dhani is visibly puzzled and alarmed but Siddharth or Sid's nonchalance about the matter helps her gain some confidence and gradually come to terms with the fact that, quite indeed, she is in the company of a time-traveller. At the very first glance, one could guess that it's a cheeky ploy of some kind on Sid's part but Dhani seems fairly convinced that it isn't one and goes along with it, only to realize that she was suckered into something so outlandish. Things only get worse for her and soon after, when sh*t hits the roof because of the prank Sid pulled, she is forced to move out of Bengaluru and make her aunt's home in Banaras her new home.

Ridden with guilt, Sid then sets out to seek forgiveness from Dhani in Banaras but he must first traverse the beguiling lanes of the holy city and pay penance in its mystical, time-bending ways.

On paper, Jayathirtha is set out for something unique. After a rather shaky and underwhelming start, his film takes a vibrant turn once it reaches the city of Banaras and gradually takes shape of a love story that's philosophical, and rooted. Jayathirtha, to his credit, uses the culture of Varanasi to great effect - the despair in the climate, the colour and the bustle, the underlying nihilism, etc. - and convincingly sets it up as a mini kingdom of bizarreness for the subsequent science fiction elements to crop up. 

On one end, Jayathirtha is interested in exploring the unique story of a boy and girl's romance and on the other, he is intentionally complicating the boy's journey so that his endurance as a lover is tested. However, the issue arises when the writer in him is caught in two minds because he is unable to strike a fine balance between poetry and suaveness. While the film does manage to keep the viewer glued throughout, the end result is half as rewarding as the initial promise because it fails to work fully as either a love story or a sci-fi thriller. At the end of it, one is likely to walk out of the cinema hall feeling slightly half-done and say "I wish this was a bit more imaginative" because, despite all the means, Banaras does not fully live up to the ambition the filmmaker carries.

Aside from a few quirks, the sci-fi world of 'Banaras' feels half-baked
Aside from a few quirks, the sci-fi world of 'Banaras' feels half-baked

That said, Banaras is not a dull film by any means because Jayathirtha, the director, is in good form. Aside from the initial glitches, the film has a distinct charm and it is apparent that the filmmaker is extremely fond of both his characters and the world he has set his story in. In a recent media interaction, Jayathirtha revealed that the city of Banaras is a vital element of his story and to prove just that, he and his cinematographer Advaitha Gurumurthy lead us into every exciting crevice of the place. There is a sense of intimacy about Banaras, a suggestion that the place is a paradox in itself, and this is achieved mainly through the keen eye of the camera lens. Ajaneesh B. Loknath, in the same vein, is an abled supporter and his music seamlessly fuses the two contrasting genres of the film: be it the compelling background score in the second half, or songs like Hennu Hadeyalu Beda and Maaya Gange, the film has a memorable soundtrack to its name.

As far as the performances are concerned, Zaid Khan puts on an assured performance in his debut film and barring an action sequence or two where he seems slightly out of place, he looks quite channelled and keen as an actor. Sonal Monteiro looks refreshing and oozes natural elegance in every frame and her on-screen chemistry with Zaid is one of the highlights of the film. Achyuth Kumar, Sapna Raj, Barkath Ali, and Devaraj too fit well into the ensemble.

Verdict:

Banaras is an engrossing film despite its flaws. Granted that the film meanders in many places and some of the commercial tropes do not work to its benefit, writer-director Jayathirtha still manages to conceive a one-of-a-kind world for his story to come to life. The ethos and the culture of the city of Banaras are just as important as the characters and the storyline are, and it is rare to find films that feature everything together with such grace. One would only wish for the writing to be more explorative and bolder but Banaras works quite well as a big-screen experience nevertheless. 

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