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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