Feast Of Varanasi is a thriller following the hunt of a serial killer who is kidnapping and killing local girls, with Delhi analyst Arjun (Adil Hussain) and Inspector Rajveer Saxena (Tannishtha Chatterjee) on his trail. Helen (Holly Gilbert), a young English girl arrives to stay with her aunt, whose mysterious past is also linked with the serial killer.
British filmmaker Rajan Kumar Patel’s debut is highly impressive in its ambition, and visually it pays off a treat. Although it hints at a colour-filled Varanasi we have seen countless times before, Patel’s direction works in upping the tension when those same colours are drained away. Credit is also due to the amazing background score that carries us through the story’s emotions without once sounding melodramatic or over the top. Full marks to cinematographer James Aspinall and the Filmharmonic Orchestra Prague for creating this. However, the pace often slows due to lingering on these beautiful shots for far too long, making parts of the film feel like a Varanasi tourism advert.
Actors Adil Hussain (The Life Of Pi) and Tannishtha Chatterjee (Brick Lane) shine in their roles as expected, but unfortunately aren’t given much to play with. As a double act on the search for a serial killer, it would have been great to see more conflict between them, and to show how they differed more as characters aka Mulder & Scully. There was also minimal personal stakes involved for either of them outside of their job responsibilities, serving little to offer in the way of empathy. If we take the role of Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs as an example, the dramatic interaction she has with Hannibal Lecter is the main thing that gives rise to answers. There’s just very little at stake for the two of them.
Thankfully, Patel veers away from giving us a typical love story that would have developed between two main characters of an opposite gender, and what personal angle he fails to give Arjun and Rajveer is carried by Helen, though when the unexpected twists do come about, their impact is minimal as they come across so conveniently; particularly a certain homage to Chinatown. This plot is also let down by weak acting and melodramatic scenes that hark back to the days of The Jewel In The Crown. The film may have been better served by following the perspective of Arjun and Rajveer, with Helen’s story merely playing a subplot that fills in the holes.
Looking at it from an independent filmmaker’s point of view, it is hugely commendable that Patel made a film of this stature as his debut and should be congratulated on such a feat. Stronger scripts should secure him a better standing as a force to be reckoned with.
Feast of Varanasi receives its World Premiere at the London Asian Film Festival on Saturday 5th March. More details at www.tonguesonfire.com.