Beyond The Ghats & Gurus: 'Jhini Bini Chadariya' Is A Film That Lays Bare Varanasi's Soul

A still from the film 'Jhini Bini Chadariya'
A still from the film 'Jhini Bini Chadariya'People's FIlm Collective

Forget the serene chants and tranquil boat rides. Ritesh Sharma's debut film, Jhini Bini Chadariya (The Brittle Thread), plunges us into the heart of Varanasi, revealing a city far more complex than its holy pilgrimage facade. Here, a street dancer named Rani writhes on stage, her movements an explosion of raw energy that lays bare the city's underbelly. This isn't the Varanasi of tourist brochures; it's a land of gritty realities and boiling tensions.

Sharma, a native who spent his formative years ar Mughalsarai near Varanasi, isn't afraid to peel back the layers. As the Scroll article informs us, the idea for the film sparked in Sharma's mind when he saw a dancer gyrating at the Manikarnika Ghat in front of a band of leering men. This real-life character inspired the creation of the film's protagonist, Rani. An article by the Times of India explores how Sharma's narrative weaves a double helix, following both Rani's struggle to raise her deaf-mute daughter amidst financial hardship and the blossoming friendship between a shy Muslim weaver, Shahdab, and an Israeli tourist, Adah. Their journeys become a microcosm of Varanasi itself – a place where ancient traditions co-exist with modern anxieties and religious identities simmer beneath the surface.

A still from the film 'Jhini Bini Chadariya'
A still from the film 'Jhini Bini Chadariya'People's FIlm Collective
A still from the film 'Jhini Bini Chadariya'
A still from the film 'Jhini Bini Chadariya'People's FIlm Collective
A still from the film 'Jhini Bini Chadariya'
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The film also provides a poignant commentary on the changing landscape of Varanasi. The rhythmic clanging of looms, a familiar melody of the city, is gradually drowned out by the cacophony of construction. Modernization, a double-edged sword, threatens the unique identity of the city. Sharma masterfully utilizes this imagery to highlight the potential loss of Varanasi's soul. Sharma's inspiration for the title itself comes from the poetry of Kabir, a renowned mystic who preached religious harmony. Jhini Bini Chadariya serves as a poignant reminder of this fragile coexistence, a beautiful tapestry that can easily come apart.

This isn't just a film about Varanasi but a love letter to its inhabitants Sharma, deeply influenced by his childhood exposure to Kabir's teachings, celebrates the city's ordinary citizens. From the dancers who trained lead actress Megha Mathur to the weaver community that actively participated in the film, Jhini Bini Chadariya pulsates with the lifeblood of Varanasi itself.

A still from the film 'Jhini Bini Chadariya'
A still from the film 'Jhini Bini Chadariya'People's FIlm Collective

Jhini Bini Chadariya beckons the viewers to experience Varanasi with renewed perspective and unapologetic authenticity. It compels us to look beyond the ghats and gurus to the vibrant, complex city that thrives beneath. With its unflinching portrayal and raw beauty, Sharma's debut is a must-watch for anyone seeking a glimpse into the heart of a city where the sacred and profane dance in an intricate and unforgettable tango.

"Having grown up in Varanasi, I’ve come to realize that there is much more to this city than holy pilgrimages; this dense cultural hub accurately reflects the state of the two major communities of India. Jhini Bini Chadariya by Kabir helped me look for my own answers and construct the fabric of this film. It became a powerful metaphor of how people are interconnected and how life is always in the process of weaving itself. When I was brought to the Hindu temple to pray, I would rather go to the mosque across the street to enjoy the colourful fish in the pond. God for me was in both places. While the heart of Varanasi is currently being demolished along with old temples and mosques, local communities stand on the edge of a schism. My intention was to put them in the spotlight, and bring out the multicultural face of Varanasi that the city should actually take pride in. This is a story about the battles of earning an honest living, that unite common people everywhere."

Ritesh Sharma's film statement, as published on The People's Film Collective website

Find out more about Ritesh Sharma here.

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