Article Marathi

10 years of Deool:  A masterful satirical take on the politics of commercialization of religion

This drama, helmed by Umesh Kulkarni and written by Girish Kulkarni, made an important point without resorting to preachiness.

Suyog Zore

The economy has been laid low by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic while unemployment has risen to record levels, and politicians — especially those from the opposition — and the media were expected to raise pertinent issues and champion the cause of the people. However, the only topic that dominated debates for several months was the reopening of houses of worship. 

In the past few years, religious sectarianism has reached such a level that the reopening of temples has become a more pressing issue than the life of the common man.

This is a perfect time to revisit the masterful satire Deool. Released on 4 November 2011, the seminal drama, which was helmed by Umesh Kulkarni and written by Girish Kulkarni, sheds light on the rising commercialization of religious sites and its effect on the politics of their surrounding regions.

The film, which bagged the National Film Awards for Best Film, Best Dialogue and Best Actor, is set in a fictional village named Mangrul, which is surrounded by a barren stretch of land. Like many other villages, Mangrul is devoid of any latest advancement. Only one or two houses have televisions and most of the youth just wander around aimlessly. Politicians like Bhau Galande, played brilliantly by Nana Patekar, and scientist Anna (Dilip Prabhavalkar), are trying to build a new hospital but the lack of funds and political willpower is a roadblock. The youth of the village, who have witnessed city life and all its luxuries, are slowly losing patience.

The story begins when a naive Keshya (Girish Kulkarni) allegedly experiences a glimpse of Lord Datta while taking an afternoon nap under a tree. He goes to the village and makes a huge hue and cry, announcing to everyone that he was blessed with a vision of Datta. Anna dissuades him from talking about this so openly since it is a matter of faith and hence should be kept personal. But it seems that the damage has already been done. The unemployed disgruntled youth finds a perfect outlet and, with the help of a freelance journalist, sensationalizes the 'incident'. Soon a stream of visitors arrives at the spot where Kehsya allegedly had a vision of Datta.

Dilip Prabhavalkar and Nana Patekar in Deool

The youth, now sensing a golden opportunity to finally achieve their dreams, coaxes villagers to build a temple at that spot. Even Bhau Galande, who was initially against this idea of building a temple, slowly realizes the political benefits of this so-called spiritual awakening among villagers and joins them. Soon the temple is built, and Mangrul, which was once a peaceful village where one or two public vehicles would arrive in a day, turns into a small pilgrimage site. With a long queue of devotees comes numerous business opportunities, new facilities, and last but not least, acclamation and popularity for this village.

If that is all there is to the film we might not still be talking about it ten years later. What gives Deool such resonance today is what transpires after the temple is built and how it changes the behaviour of the villagers.

The Kulkarni duo brilliantly infused social commentary on the commercialization of faith without ever coming across as preachy. Girish's funny, rustic dialogues play a huge part in keeping the proceeding light even when things have gone out of hand for our protagonist. Girish gives each character his own language and space and because of that, even minor ones have an impact. Like Patekar's "Shunya minatat alo", Girish has given to each of his characters unique lines. There is an unadulterated authenticity in these characters and the depiction of village life, especially in the way they interact with each other.

But the film's biggest strength lies in how it explores the thin, almost invisible, line of faith and superstition. The film shows how even a simple incident like a cow scratching her head on a tree can snowball into a village transforming overnight into a full-blown pilgrimage site.

Mangrul is a representation of many villages and towns across the country where commerce runs hand in hand with religion. While there is no dearth of shrines in villages, there is an absence of quality medical facilities and the impact of this was evident during the pandemic. As the healthcare crisis triggered by the second wave shifted from big cities to small towns and rural areas, the poor medical infrastructure, even in villages famous for their pilgrimage sites, left people struggling to cope with the deadly virus. 

Another thing the film subtly explores is the growing impact of globalization on the youth of small towns, who are no longer satisfied by merely watching modern lifestyles on television. Cities are changing rapidly, and they believe that their villages should also change.

In one of the important conversations in the film, Patekar's character says, "Shaharatlya lokana vatata ki gavana gavasarkhach asava pan, tyani tithe khoryane paisa odhaycha ani amhi ithe shenamutat rahaycha hoy? (These people in big cities think that we small towners should live like this forever. There they will earn a lot of money but we are supposed to live in this dilapidated state forever?)"

With this dialogue, Deool also sheds a light on how villagers are forced to take a devious route because development evaded them for decades.
Looking back, one can't deny that Deool had a major impact on Marathi cinema and its audience. It was also one of the few movies that ran for 100 days in cinemas, a rare achievement even 10 years ago, especially for such a relatively low-budget film.