KOCHI: Be it the stripes of ash on foreheads or crosses dangling around necks, ours is a society that does not shy away from wearing its faith on its sleeve. Yet, many are fence-sitters, holding onto ancient definitions of belief, not knowing whether it is religion or spirituality that they abide by. It is this rigmarole of a religion, as a commodity, that makes for Umesh Kulkarni’s National Award-winning satire, Deool (The Temple).
Kesha (Girish Kulkarni), the village simpleton, wakes up from a siesta on seeing the vision of Lord Dutta and yells his heart out on being ‘blessed’. This awakens his slumbering village, a place stuck in the rut and caked with the dust of complacency, and the unemployed youth of the village see it as a chance to put their obscure village on the world map. Step in Mahasangaram (Kishor Kadam), the journalist, who ‘creates’ front page news (with a photo of course) for a paltry sum of ` 500 and soon Mangrul rises to fame as the village of the Divine.
A front page article not sufficing, a plan for a temple is drawn out over episodes of Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches and glasses of spirits much to the chagrin of Anna, the sole voice of reason amidst the hullabaloo.
Anna (the name more than a coincidence?), played by Dilip Prabhawalkar, packs his bags for Bengaluru as the hospital project proposed by him makes way for the temple.
‘Politics of Development’ rears its ugly head as the once self-effacing politician avatar of Bhau (Nana Patekar) bites the dust and he is soon sucked into the business of religion. Holy Cow literally as even Kardi, the harmless cow, is caged and gullible devotees, who flock to the temple, pay obeisance to her.
The temple soon sets off a series of events that transform the sleepy hamlet and its unassuming people into a clan driven by the sole need to rake in the moolah in the name of God. A desi rap item number, that sings of religion as a “cool tool”, lays the score for what happens when religion tends to rule pockets rather than hearts.
‘Deool’ cannot be dismissed as the occasional story of rustic India as the film critiques the very machinery that runs society. Newsmakers take a beating for sensationalism as the entire ruckus in the film is caused by a marauding scribe.
Politicians, who sign on the dotted line for commercial projects and do not lift a finger for community development, cut a sorry figure. And if viewers want to wash their hands off the pathetic state of affairs in the country, the character of The Audience (Abhijeet Khaire) is a reminder that we are party to the dysfunctional way of life.
In soul, ‘Deool’ tells a poignant tale of a barren village that is forced to concoct lies to usher in prosperity and questions the disguised costs of development. The screenplay, penned by the Kulkarni duo of Umesh and Girish, is peppered with anecdotes of rural life when it meets its urbane counterpart and kills stereotypes. The village is privvy to a lady Sarpanch and Kesha’s flame, Pinky, is sexually demonstrative. With an illustrious and exhaustive star cast, ‘Deool’ does not reduce its characters to mere mirages on screen as each actor offers a different perspective on the potpourri of religion, politics and commercialism.
The film won the national awards for Best Feature Film, Best Screenplay and Best Actor in 2011 and has travelled to the Busan International Film Festival and Abu-Dhabi International Film Festival. It won the Audience Choice Award at New York’s South-Asian International Film Festival and was recently screened by the Metro Film Society in the city.