After all, who are we but mere specs on the universe’s vast canvas of time and space? Over the centuries the people, their life-styles and their thought processes have kept changing. What was in vogue yesterday has often become obsolete today and what is relevant today may not remain significant tomorrow. This relentless assault of time on tradition has been a constant and inevitable feature in humanity’s evolution and howsoever unpalatable it may seem, one finally has to accept it as a fact of life. Girish Deshpande’s National Award winning Marathi film Deool tries to prove this core concept through a light-hearted and yet deeply provocative portrayal of an obscure village going through a mind-boggling transition, as it becomes a popular pilgrimage-place.
It all begins with a dream. A village simpleton goes off to sleep under an old tree and sees a floating fleeting Godly image in his dream. Elated and excited, he tells his experience to his near and dear ones. Soon the entire village is abuzz with the news. Some greet it with cynicism, some with downright disbelief but most are only too happy to acknowledge this ‘miracle’. As the social, cultural and political forces start churning the public opinion, the voices of reason have to make way for popular beliefs. Out goes the plan for making a village hospital and in its place, a huge temple of the deity is constructed. The temple now becomes the new identity of the village. As the devotees start pouring in from all corners of the world to see this ‘miracle place’, the age-old calm and quiet life-style of the village-folk gives way to mad materialistic rush. The simpleton whose spiritual experience started this juggernaut in the first place, now looks aghast at the unrelenting, unsavoury forces he has unknowingly unleashed! But will he be able to turn back the time and the tide?
In his previous films like Valu and Vihir, writer-director Girish Kulkarni has already showed his deep understanding of rural life and gift for socio-political satire. Deool carries forward the same torch. The film’s locations, the language and the local characters and situations are straight out of any real village’s day-to-day life. The observations about the increasing influence of idiot box are spot-on and so is the depiction of potentially dangerous and devious social and political ramifications of anything and everything related to religious faith. He has received some flak about selling out to commercialism and introducing some filmy elements (like an item song and a cameo by a famous Hindi actor) but to be fair, those elements do not feel like misfits in the whole scheme of things. Overall, he succeeds in making a film that introduces the urban audiences to an alienated rural world and its unique issues. He keeps the narrative subtle and avoids melodrama. His way of looking at things is well-balanced and that’s why he successfully manages to show both sides of the coin.
A whole lot of success of this film is due to an excellent cast and their natural performances. Nana Patekar as the village politician torn between his own intelligence and the political pressures; Sonali Kulkarni as his wife; Girish Kulkarni as the simpleton villager and Dilip Prabhavalkar as the social reformer get the maximum footage; but such is the film’s attention to detail that practically every character stays in memory.
Deool is a fine piece of film-making. It is an enjoyable entertainer as well as an intelligent thought-provoking film. It once again proves that in recent times Marathi cinema is going from strength to strength and giving us some memorable milestones.