A lofty Brahmin priest is challenged by his Hindu faithful and the sudden presence of a little boy in his household in “Dharm,” a solemn, visually picturesque but hackneyed debut from helmer Bhavna Talwar. Touching on the history of violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims and setting it in holy city of Varanasi — a nexus of religious fervor, exploitation and tourism — allows Talwar some potent doses of realism, but dramatic strokes in Vibha Singh and Varun Gautam’s script tend toward the obvious and are borderline cartoonish. Local run in 2007 delivered poor results, while pic’s lavish look may drum up some curious Western auds.
So revered that no commoner or non-Hindu can even touch him, Pandit Narayan Chaturvedi (Pankaj Kapur, in another stellar perf) dominates his temple community, and even knows how to put young hothead Surya Prakash (Pankaj Tripathi, overdoing it) in his place. Two trigger points — Surya’s sister Mani (Hrishita Bhatt) eloping with a Yank tourist (Joel Lee), and Pandit’s family taking in a homeless boy (Krish Parekh) whose mother turns out to be Muslim — pit Surya against Pandit in a battle of religious wills that grows bloody.