Filmy Dialogue | Movies

Column: Two new Marathi films that probe the everyday rot in society

A still from Ajit Suryakant Wadikar’s feature film, ‘Y’.

A still from Ajit Suryakant Wadikar’s feature film, ‘Y’.  

‘Kastoori’ and ‘Y’ pose uncomfortable questions to the audience

From Kunku in 1937 to Sairat in 2016, and more in between and after, Marathi cinema has had a long-standing tradition of bringing significant social issues to the fore. Two new Marathi films, both debut vehicles of self-taught filmmakers — one an engineer, the other a doctor — don’t just spotlight problems of the day but do so in distinct, innovative ways.

It might be stomach-churning, but from the first scene itself, filmmaker Vinod Kamble refuses to fight shy of laying bare the essential ugliness of the caste system in his feature, Kastoori. The film is a matter-of-fact portrayal of the life of young Gopi, in whose world school and homework go hand-in-hand with manual scavenging and assisting at the local hospital’s morgue. He swings between these two realities without any fuss.

His friends tease him about the pervasive stench he carries, a stench he fights, handkerchief around his nose and mouth, scrubbing himself hard with a precious piece of soap. Gopi nurtures just one a dream — that one day he will get rid of all the smells of dead bodies and human excreta that seem to surround him. Just like the folklore of their community god, Gorakshnath, who emerged from garbage and dung smelling of musk, Gopi wants to rise above the all-pervading stink in his life with the help of a little fragrance of kastoori (musk).

Smell of caste

But is it Gopi who smells or is it the world at large? The world that heaps casteist slurs on him? The film is a metaphor of sorts, targeted at a toxic society that urgently needs to clean up its act. “Is it the dirt on our bodies or is it to do with the filth in our thoughts?” asks Kamble, of the question he has tried to raise in the film. He admits portraying only the tip of the iceberg; the reality is far more horrific. “I also didn’t want to underline “caste”, I wanted to bring it up without using the word,” he says.

The film is a slice of Kamble’s life; his father and uncles are conservancy workers back in Solapur. Like Gopi in the film, he too sold scrap with his grandmother and, till Class VII, cleaned the septic tanks in his school.

“It was only much later, when I read Ambedkar, Phule and Annabhau Sathe, that I realised what had been happening to me,” he says.

A still from Vinod Kamble’s ‘Kastoori’.

A still from Vinod Kamble’s ‘Kastoori’.  

The filmmaking bug bit Kamble during his engineering course. The self-trained filmmaker has also made two shorts — Grahan (2014) and Post Mortem (2017). The latter is about a youngster, Sunny Chavan, who has been assisting with autopsies at a government hospital from the time he was in Class VIII. Kamble expanded on that by adding his own story and that’s how Kastoori was born. Chavan, now 25, has completed his M.A. but continues to work at the morgue because he cannot get another job.

It was in 2015 that Ajit Suryakant Wadikar gave up a medical career to begin work on his maiden film, Y, that is about sex-selective abortion and female foeticide. Having learnt the basics of filmmaking through books, he made a couple of short documentaries for Unicef, and one on film preservation for the National Film Archive of India.

He wrote the first draft of Y in 2011 after the skewed sex ratio in the 2010 Census opened up the subjects of foeticide and infanticide for debate.

Though based on extensive research and interviews with the medical fraternity, the film is a fictionalised account that follows a mainstream thriller format. “I wanted to reach out to the maximum number of people possible,” he says. So, the characters swing between noble and evil, and deceptions and mistrust rip into relationships. There’s a doctor who uses the medical machinery for his own gains, and a medical-police team, led by a woman, that tries to overcome procedural and organisational roadblocks to nab the wrongdoers. Dr. Wadikar admits to being inspired by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros, Babel and 21 grams. And in the end, what we get is an investigative medical thriller a la Virus.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 5:05:30 AM |

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