Reel Life: 'Dug Dug', 'Deool' and the absurdity of faith

‘Deool’ walks delicately on the thin line that divides faith from superstition and shows how religion can corrupt innocence. ‘Dug Dug’ has reached out to the world because Deool laid out the road

Reel Life: 'Dug Dug', 'Deool' and the absurdity of faith
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Namrata Joshi

Ritwik Pareek’s debut feature Dug Dug has had a dream run at the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) winning the love of critics and viewers alike. A wacky take on the sense of absurd that often underlines faith, it is about how a mobike, with registration plate RJ369, gets involved in an accident only to become a divine object for a community in Rajasthan. The unlikely initiator of a thriving new religious cult in the state.

Watching the film, a second time round recently, I was just as consumed as I was initially by its slick and stylish visuals, carefully designed frames, fluorescent colours and striking jazzy soundtrack. The highway signage and lights, the arid desert landscape, Jaadugar PP Sharma poster, offerings of alcohol instead of sweets, the pink and blue colours of devotion—the quirky lens with which Pareek frames Rajasthan is the kind of trippy cinema India may not be identified with in the West.

But the film’s whimsy wears off just as fast as it entices you. The acid trip couldn’t leave me doped out for long. The long loop of repetitive images in a never-ending montage gets exasperating, trying painfully hard to drive home the fact of commercialisation of religion.

But how many times do notes have to be counted and balloons blown to make us understand the corruption of faith? The irreverence—of both form and content—runs out of tricks and flair in this bloated middle only to have a long-delayed flashback finally explain things—how human beings can end up believing their own lies when it comes to matters divine.

Reel Life: 'Dug Dug', 'Deool' and the absurdity of faith
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In fact, Dug Dug took me back to an old Marathi film, Umesh Kulkarni’s Deool, set in the fictional village of Mangrul, that looks at the same theme of commodification of God and marketing of religion, in a more rooted and real way as opposed to Dug Dug’s fantastical and fablesque canvas.

If a mobike sets things in motion in Dug Dug, it’s the cow Karde of a simple villager Keshya (Girish Kulkarni) that leads him to dream of the three-headed Lord Datta under the shade of a tree. Is it a sign that the Lord has descended on the village?

As the villagers decide to build a temple to welcome him and eventually become stakeholders in a profit-making business centred on God, the more urgent necessities, like a hospital and electricity, are given a short shrift. All they want is a piece of the God franchisee.

Quite like what’s portrayed in Dug Dug, media manoeuvres, TV channel coverage, political games of one-upmanship, WhatsApp forwards, ancillary businesses—setting up a website, singing bhajans set to film songs—are set in motion.

Reel Life: 'Dug Dug', 'Deool' and the absurdity of faith

Kulkarni’s film is as quirky as Pareek’s, but its humour is more rustic, the farce is folksy. The characters of Kulkarni are like those populating the world of Asterix and Obelisk but are acutely observed and spring from ground reality of rural Maharashtra.

Like the woman sarpanch who remains a mere figurehead in the world of men, making papad than participating in governance. In giving a rounded view, Deool becomes far more relatable, right down to the music—the beautiful abhang on the search for God—the mix of the sacred and profane in the verses and poetry.

Deool’s telling might be conventional, devoid of the contemporary edginess of Dug Dug, but the urgency is acute, in fact far more so. The satire is replete with notes of sadness, especially in the way it gives platform to the rational voice—Anna (Dilip Prabhawalkar)—the elder who very rightly points out the need to separate personal beliefs from the public practice religion.

And the beautiful conversation on rural-urban divide, how the city slickers often deny development and modernity to villages to let them remain like idyllic escapes from the brutal civilisation, caught in the comfort of the past. But is that fair for the rural denizens? Why should they suffer in this politics of development, rather the lack of it?

Deool walks delicately on the thin line that divides faith from superstition and shows how religion can corrupt innocence. Should we then run far away from our Gods and immerse them quietly somewhere to reclaim our original guilelessness?

Last week I watched Deool straight after Dug Dug, loved it more than I had initially and called Kulkarni to source some film stills. He could share only one but told me of a strange coincidence that marked our conversation. I had called him the day that Deool had turned 10. A decade of becoming even more relevant as religion occupies centre-stage in our public, social and political life.

Dug Dug has reached out to the world because Deool laid out the road to that journey. A film worth turning back to.

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