Sunday, March 18, 2012

Long Overdue Movie Review: Deool (the Temple) Marathi

Go for it. If you are the type who wants an 'executive summary' before reading a review and believe stars look better in the sky than in movie reviews, then I suggest you watch Deool. It has a  rap song, a garish temple, a car with a number plate (4131) which is stylized to read as 'Bhau' (elder brother, or Don), a God-finding cow, lots of politics and superb cinematography. And lots more. 

Deool, which is a corrupted/colloquial form of the word Devalay (abode of God), means temple in Marathi. The movie tackles the issue of temple towns and how and why they grow...and prosper, especially in rural Maharashtra. And by extension, the rest of India. At a deeper level, it is an interesting commentary about belief, scepticism and how rural development can (and is) shaped by these thoughts. 

Deool pans into the breathtaking desolateness of the village of Mangruul, a sleepy, boring and electricity-deprived hamlet where nothing much really seems to happen. Yes, there are ruins of an ancient civilization discovered in the village, but that is not really very exciting for the village folk. The hamlet does not even have a proper S.T. (State Transport) bus stop. 

Keshya, a cowherd, is a simpleton charged with tending to the local politician's (Nana Patekar) cow. The cow, Kardi (Kardi comes from the colour Karda - greyish brown - a little like naming the cow Browny), is one of the two-three most important things in Keshya's life. Keshya, while once chasing the perpetually moving cow, finds her under a Banyan tree. As the heat saps his energy, he falls in a dazed slumber. And a strange dream envelopes him. He sees Lord Dattatreya (Dutta) in it. Shaken by this vision, he runs into the village to share this astounding incident. People knowing Keshya don't immediately take him seriously. Only his mother, after her initial indifference abates, believes him. The headman's wife, once she hears of this story, starts believing this as well. Soon, the meme is developed and people start talking about it, with a mix of mirth and mock-seriousness.  The senior wise man of the village, Anna (played by Dilip Prabhavalkar), one of the first persons with whom Keshya shares his vision, advises him to keep it to himself, since belief is a personal thing.
But such a thing cannot remain under wraps. Bhau's nephew and his band of wastrels are keen to latch on to something which can propel them into the big league. They get this news into a local newspaper (called 'Mahasangraam' - the great war) by paying the local reporter. Bhau is initially against this idea and in favour of building a hospital in the village. Anna creates the blue print and the plans and there seems to be an implicit agreement to get the project funded by Bhau. But in a coup of sorts, Bhau's political leader does a turnaround and asks Bhau to support the Dutta phenomenon.

And then, it begins. A temple town comes up in front of our eyes. The temple, the centre-piece of the sleepy village, is constructed. Earlier wastrels become dedicated volunteers, using 'moral suasion' in the way only religiously motivated volunteers can - getting donations from students, making people pay up by getting them to commemorate tiles in the temple in the names of their dear departed and asking businessmen to include Lord Dutta as a business partner - for luck and profits.

Anna can only watch in dismay as private belief - and fear - is exploited and commercialized in a superstructure which feeds itself. New stories of the Lord's miracles are created, devotional songs to the tune of Bollywood Blockbusters are sold on CDs and flowers and coconut plates (which are meant as offerings to the deity) are sold - and resold - to the believers by the 'simple' townsfolk.

Bhau, who by now has re-established his position as the most important and influential person in the village, realizes that Anna is dismayed enough to leave the village. He goes to meet Anna and then follows a dialogue which defines the core of the movie. I will not describe it here, it is better to watch it. One exchange, which I will mention though, is this:

Anna: Blatantly illegal things are happening in the name of development. One day, the Law will catch up with you, Bhau!
Bhau: Anna, on this side we stand, on the other side stands the Law...and between us, flows the endless stream of devotees. To reach us, Law will have to cross this stream and in doing so, it will hurt the sentiments of those devotees...(then, in a reassuring tone) everything will happen legally, don't worry.
Anna eventually leaves. But he is not the only one who is bothered by this unstoppable 'progress'. Keshya, the simpleton, cannot make sense of his surroundings. He cannot fathom why his mother doesn't go to the temple everyday to pray , but is perfectly happy to sit outside and sell flowers. Her response that if all villagers keep going to the temple, outsiders will never be able to see the Lord only angers him. After a fistfight with Bhau's nephew and the unbearable shock of seeing Kardi pass away, he takes a bold decision. 

You need to see the rest.

You need to see it, because, really (and pardon my pun), the Deool is in the details.

The brilliant performance by almost all actors, be it the way Sonali Kulkarni (Bhau's wife) walks and talks, with the easy confident air of being the First Lady of the village, Keshya's discomfort when his wife-to-be hugs him (she's still his wife-to-be, after all!), Bhau's ability to quickly turn on a dime, the weak and venal female Sarpanch, who cannot take any decision unless authorized by Bhau (or her mother-in-law), the wastrel gang who suddenly turn into powerful and honourable citizens - all turn in performances that flow effortlessly. 

The other level of detail is the keen observation of modern village life that never fails to evoke surprise and laughter - the old lady who keeps watching Saas bahu serials wearing her post-cataract dark goggles, the fantastic number plate on Bhau's SUV, the simple bhajan (devotional songs) singer in the village who sings touching, uncomplicated songs, but struggles to reproduce them to Bollywood tunes - and which is done very easily by Bhau, Bhau's larger than life poster, which is in the inimitable style of village politicians (in a walking position, talking on the cell phone)...all add up to a fantastic, funny mix.

This movie is thoroughly deserving of the National Award for the Best Film and Best Actor (Girish Kulkarni - Keshya)


  1. U broke ur silence for Deool. Can't wait for it on DVD. Too much to ask to are it in theaters I guess!

  2. You can watch it on youtube.