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A musk watch poignant tale of destiny – Beyond Bollywood

Inspired by true events, writer-director Vinod Kamble’s film tells the tale of a Dalit boy who is compelled to do post-mortems in the most unimaginable surroundings.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️ (2 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

If you’re not one to dig in and get your hands dirty, then this Kastoori – The Musk [2023] isn’t for you. Bollywood’s ‘leave-your-brain-behind’ lot, which is plenty, lacks the EQ to understand the plight of a Dalit boy. In a cinema, society, where there is a crisis of empathy, it is no less than a miracle that unheralded filmmaker Vinod Kamble ‘s Kastoori is getting a theatrical release.

Having travelled across festival circuits, [most such films do], Kastoori finally makes it to theatres on 8 December. Having Anurag Kashyap and Nagraj Popatlal Manjule as presenters certainly helps to get the right platforms – festivals and theatrical.

No disclaimer per se, but the opening line of this review is enough to tell you that Kastoori is a rooted tale. Set in Barshi, district Solapur, writer-director Kamble’s Kastoori [2023], tells the poignant story of a young Dalit boy Gopi [Samarth Sonawane]. Circumstances force him to aid his father in the local, humble, post-mortem facility.  One look is enough to tell you that the facility is miles away from the acceptable human standards. It has the local municipal’s blessing, but this facility is more used for unclaimed bodies, and by locald who can’t afford autopsy in a hospital. No air conditioning, no proper incision equipment. Jeez, Gopi and his father aren’t even given a mask. 

Honestly, as an urbanite, this reviewer never thought that such a facility even exists. Like father, like son, but how many 12-year-olds can do a post-mortem in such a dead-ly place? Jaws drop just looking at how Gopi seldom panics. After his father is fired, poor Gopi is left with no option but to carry the family legacy. Eeewwww, OMG! The viewers are having this standard expression each time we are taken into this unpleasant post-mortem facility.  Young Gopi does puke eventually, but it’s the preceding event, setback that left him despondent.

It’s generally presumed that men in such jobs have to bank on liquor to beat the fear of the devil. It takes nerves. Jeez, that’s bullshit. You need to be numb to cut a human body. Men have alcohol, how does a poor 12 year old kid get rid of the stench? KASTOORI! There is one at home. It, however, needs to be used judiciously. That’s how it survived, but eventually poor Gopi runs out of the last drop. His drunkard father, nor hapless mother can afford another. The boy devises ways with his friend Adim [Shravan Upalkar] to generate the necessary money -Rs3,000.  He’s banking on a dopey, wife-beating individual to hand him over the tiny kastoori bottle.  Jeez, one knows how this is likely to end.

A kastoori is needed to beat off the stench, but more importantly, Gopi wants to smell good in class. Fragrance though is no shield against the unjust caste system. A classmate witnesses Gopi and his mother picking off the pieces of a person run over by train. Next day at school, he is hurt by the word ‘b#@$*i’ drawn on his desk.  He wipes the desk clean, but sadly, the world around him will never accept him as an equal. 

It was in 2015 that Kamble read a news story about Gopi and his brother, both who still work in the post-mortem facility.  He added his element of fiction with an Adim helping to maintain communal harmony. 

Nothing wrong with the story. It is compelling. Unfortunately, the story isn’t backed by a taut screenplay. We’ve never buried our head like an ostrich at the mere sight of poverty, despair. However, the dull screenplay hardly builds any engagement.  Here’s a story that could have been told well inside an hour.  Kastoori, though, had to live up to its feature film billing. The dull screenplay is compounded by the equally dull acts by the leading child artistes – Sonawane, Upalkar. The duo represents the land, and so it’s an organic casting. However, the director fails to bring the best out of his two young protagonists.  lOne is never critical of child artistes, but in the recent years, many have put the adults to shame. Kastoori presenter Nagraj Manjule himself unearthed some fine little gems from humble backgrounds. Like Sonawane, Upalkar, they must have faced the camera for the first time.  The buck stops with the director for the below par performance.

A humble story needs to cover the humble suroundings. The post-mortem room is vital, but Kamble gets a bit carried away in showing one scene too many.  The film begins with a boy cleaning a dirty toilet. That was essential but did we need to see a boy [thankfully having gloves on] put his hand down to clean a choked Indian toilet? Kamble keeps the background score to bare minimum. Maybe, there was scope to add a bit more. In the end, we largely end up watching bland sequences. The final image is heartbreaking, yet it sums up life for the Gopis of the world. The society has been unfair, but an individual will never grow if s/he identifies itself with the name, castes that society gives them. In the end, it’s not the boy, but the society that needs to clean the dirt from its mind and hearts.

Don’t chase the deer. Lord Ram, and Salman Khan paid a heavy price. Kamble’s Kastoori [2023] has its many flaws, but one can’t question the good intent.

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