A Film Review of Deool

Spoiler alert!

Deool

From the opening credits with smudges of sand depicting village scenes to the enigmatic ending, this is an unpretentious film which touches on something not only of village life in India, but of how we all manage our lives and relate to the divine, politics and earning our daily bread.

The dry landscape of south-central India is introduced with affectionate interaction between a husband and his wife, and a poet being melancholic at a bus stop, classically misunderstood by his friends. An enduring image is the hunched figure of the cowherd looking out over the arid slopes beyond the village. The sarpanch (head of the village council) is also a bahu (daughter-in-law), and endures housework haranguing in between not turning up for panchayat (village council) meetings. The myriad connections to those who have gone to cities are present through the mobile phone, as are senior party members for the local politician. The film goes on to pack quite an emotional punch, as everything changes with the vision of the cowherd and the building of a fantastic temple.

Life after the temple, is this the reality for many Indians today, also in cities? This hunted feel of selling, selling, earning, demanding on the sly or with barefaced cheekiness and then spending, spending on drink and shiny new TVs. The scenes with the women hooked to soaps, where even a mother can only attend to her sons religious revelation in the ad break is (though caricatured) emblematic of the broader sense of the weakening of social responsiveness. The older, educated man breaks off a Skype conversation with his son in the city when called from outside by the goatherd. This is the immediacy of the old-fashioned politeness, which mobile phones and money intrude on, interrupt and break off. Is village life better? Are these values more important for life than big cars? The criticism is (I feel, though an Indian may feel it differently, especially one from a business family) given with a light touch, resulting not in some earth-shattering judgement, but in confusion and a poverty of conviviality.

At the screening of Deool at DIFF in Dharamsala, there was a Q and A with one of the directors after the film. (paraphrased) The cowherd was amazingly played, was it a village man which they managed to find? No, said the director, it was the other director who played the cowherd. He will be happy to hear you thought he was a villager!

Note on the film: Deool bagged the Best Film, Best Actor and Best Dialogue honours at the 59th Indian National Film Awards for 2011.

Review by Heid Jerstad

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Brits Abroad

Walking down West Marredpally Road, despite the usual spattering of temples and mosques interspersed among the houses, stores and office buildings, it is the grand white-washed churches that are most striking. From Roman Catholic to Wesleyan, Mormon and Syrian Orthodox, all denominations seem to have a foothold in Secunderabad, representing the enduring influence of Christian missionaries.

Still today there is an expatriate American community of Mormons nearby and a great deal of ‘development work’ that is directed through church organisations from central Europe. Bizarrely, given the historical dynamic of western missionaries spreading Christianity to India, a local named Richard recently interrupted me eating a samosa and attempted to ‘welcome me back into the fold’, lamenting the state of Christianity in the West. It appears that centuries of missionary activity have served their purpose…

With a considerable cantonment stationed in the area during the colonial era, it is not so surprising that British influence still pervades through Christianity. However, the remnants of the Raj extend beyond the obvious religious legacy. Much to the amusement of friends and the embarrassment of my father, I recently joined a local choir: the Deccan Voices. Surprised by their appreciation for western music – something I rarely encounter in India – I assumed that these vocalists came to choral music through church institutions. Certainly amongst the younger members in the ensemble this hypothesis holds true.

Yet amongst the old hands, this love of music appears to stem not from religious experience but rather from a cultural ‘British-ness’. The obvious difference of pigment aside, when I step away from the madness of Hyderabad into the grandeur of the (British-built) Vidhyaranya School for our weekly rehearsal, I could quite easily be singing with a group in rural North Yorkshire. English is spoken exclusively not for my benefit, but because that is the language chosen to express themselves, probably on account of their appreciation of English literature. They even make the sort of ‘British jokes’ – word plays and puns – that were incomprehensible to my colleagues at Delhi University, displaying a much deeper linguistic understanding of English than many fluent, university-educated young people in India today. On Saturday night we had a small post-concert celebration in delightful (British-built) bungalow, where we sat and sang Beatles and Louis Armstrong songs – in harmony! – whilst sipping Scottish whisky.

It seems I have found myself in a small circle of people that are linguistically and culturally perhaps more British than Indian. Indeed one of our altos eats Yorkshire puddings every Sunday – surely far more ‘traditional’ than most families in the UK. Four of the choir now run the Hyderabad Western Music Foundation, raising awareness and appreciation of Classical and Jazz traditions and constantly lamenting the widespread adulation of modern-day Bollywood pop.

In contrast to other ‘elite’ groups in Hyderabad that are often the product of riches from the city’s recent tech boom and resultant expansion, it seems that this small community are unaffected by the last 65 years of the ‘Indian nation’ and more routed in ties from the colonial era. A few are old enough to have experienced British rule and many have family links in Britain. Despite the continual social, economic and political flux that has characterised India since Independence – particularly in Hyderabad – the enduring influence of ‘British culture’ amongst this small circle is remarkable.

Over half century ago when Nehru voiced his view that he was ‘the last Englishman to rule India’, he perhaps did not anticipate the strength of British influence on a select group of the nation’s citizens. Through religious institutions and more profoundly through ‘high-brow’ appreciation of western cultural and linguistic traditions, remnants of colonial era remain, encased in a small circle of ‘British’ Indians. It may yet disappear, replaced by the sense of inherent ‘Indian-ness’ that Nehru strived to create in founding the nation; but, with the continuing efforts of the Hyderabad Western Music Foundation and the Deccan Voices, this influence may yet be sustained in years to come.

Written by Ben Thurman.

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