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Feast Of Varanasi preview: Exploring a little-known subject

The British film, a whodunnit with a mystical twist, will have its India premiere at the Woodpecker International Film Festival starting in Delhi on Thursday.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The fifth edition of the Woodpecker International Film Festival will be held at Delhi's Siri Fort auditorium from 9-12 November 2017. This edition includes hard-hitting films that question social inequalities and challenge age-old practices and traditions. Rajan Kumar Patel’s Feast Of Varanasi (2015), starring Adil Hussain and Tannishtha Chatterjee, will have its India premiere at the festival.

A gripping film, Feast Of Varanasi addresses the taboo subject of the Aghoris — a Shaivite cult that practises rituals frowned upon by orthodox Hindu society — while underlining the issue of casteism. A thriller, the film is a whodunnit with a mystical twist.

A number of women have been gruesomely murdered in Varanasi and the police are trying to locate the killer who is undoubtedly looking for his next victim. Arjun (Hussain), an officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), is sent from Delhi to investigate the crimes and catch the killer.

As the tale unfolds, we are entwined in Hindu lore which may explain the murderer’s motivations. Meanwhile, Helen (Holly Gilbert) comes to the ancient holy town after her mother’s death to meet her aunt and mother’s twin Agatha (Judi Bowker), who runs a mission.

Helen is fighting her own demons and gets enveloped in the crimes that have gripped the city. She meets a reclusive Aghori priest (Ashwath Bhatt) who lives on the city's fringes. Though dark and mysterious, he may hold the key to some of the questions that plague Helen.

Why you should watch this film

Feast Of Varanasi is beautifully shot by cinematographer James Aspinall who captures the beauty and religious intensity of Varanasi while taking us through its grimy underbelly. The narrow bylanes, open spaces, riverside, and Aghoris are captured in their natural setting as the film was shot on location.

The unusual story and theme highlight various issues, including the pertinent ones of caste and gender, as the film questions the religiosity which allows these deep-rooted beliefs in society. Further, the presence of the missionaries in Varanasi allows for an alternative perspective on religion and the idea of service, as the mysticism and power of Hinduism and its beliefs are explored. The festival of Holi offers the filmmaker a chance to capture the vivid colours and festivities in Varanasi as Helen, a tourist, is enveloped in things that she does not fully comprehend.

The performances are commendable as each character, especially that of the Aghori, is brought to life by the artistes.

The film will be screened at the Woodpecker festival on 12 November at 4:40pm.

Related topics

Woodpecker International Film Festival