Three years ago, writer-director Vinod Kamble came across a news report about Sunny Chavan, a boy who started assisting his father in conducting autopsies at Barshi Civil Hospital in Maharashtra’s Solapur district when he was a class VIII student. Kamble, a fellow resident of Barshi, sought out the then 22-year-old Chavan soon after. Once he overcame his initial disbelief about someone engaged in such a grim task from a young age, Kamble realised how similar their life stories were. This spurred him to write and direct Post Mortem, a 25-minute short film that was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017.
Two years later, he expanded the canvas and added layers to this story for his debut feature, Kastoori (The Musk). In both the films, the young protagonist Gopi is the common factor. He is engaged in manual scavenging, cleaning toilets and assists his father in performing autopsies to contribute to his family’s income even as he is forced to choose between education and work. “My father, uncle and grandmother worked as sweepers under Barshi municipal council. While studying at school, I used to help my grandmother with her work. As she was growing old, I used to help in clearing garbage,” says Kamble.
With some of Kamble’s own experiences woven into the script of Kastoori, the movie is an unflinching and nuanced look at protagonist Gopi’s struggle to find musk to get rid of the odour that he believes he carries after burying unclaimed bodies or declogging toilets. Since Kamble does not shy away from showing burnt parts of a dead body or dirty toilets, the film for most of its viewers becomes an incisive yet difficult look at the “others”. Yet, one has to agree with him when the 31-year-old filmmaker says, “I have tried not to make the obvious mention of casteism and class discrimination in Kastoori. Instead, I’ve tried to show economic barriers and what stops the poorer section of the society from leading a life with dignity.”
The filmmaker believes that Gopi, the character, ably essayed by Samarth Sonawane in Kastoori, represents those kids who work at brick kilns or tea stalls. “Kastoori is the story of every child who can’t access education,” Kamble had said during the last edition of Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF). After its premiere at the Mumbai Film Festival, Kastoori was screened in Dharamshala for a young audience. There was an uneasy silence after its DIFF screening. However, during the post-screening interaction, they did open up and spoke about the discrimination against the less privileged ones that they themselves had noticed. “Pointing out such social inequalities,” says Kamble, “was the aim for telling such a story”. Kastoori is the first production of Insight Films, which is jointly set up by eight women. The team is in talks with some studios to release the film later this year.
Kamble’s decision to become a filmmaker was followed by a moment of epiphany in an examination hall in 2014. “Since childhood, I was interested in watching movies and wanted to make them some day. But I didn’t know how. While appearing for the Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) examination in Pune, I wrote down a story after I finished attempting the questions. That’s when I realised that I was in the wrong place,” says Kamble, who studied civil engineering at Government College of Engineering, Karad.
That year, he went back to Barshi and joined the theatre group, Manavta Nimriti Manch. “I assisted the group backstage and with the play’s production. There, I also attended a filmmaking workshop. After that I made my first short film, Grahan, during Diwali that year,” recalls Kamble. Grahan, a four-minute film without any dialogues, was well-received. That consolidated his resolve to be a full-time filmmaker. Kamble assisted director Amar Bharat Deokar on his National Award-winning Marathi movie, Mhorkya, which is about a 14-year-old shepherd boy who wants to learn how to march for the Republic Day parade. This movie was released recently.
During the making of Kastoori, Kamble depended heavily on his personal experience as he decided to shoot in Barshi. After selecting Sonawane and then Sravan Upalkar, who plays Gopi’s friend Adim, Kamble lived with them for three months. “I prepared them for the emotional and intense scenes. For instance, those involving the post mortem and toilet scenes. Staying together helped us understand each other,” says the filmmaker. Sonawane was recently awarded the best actor trophy at the Aurangabad International Film Festival (AIFF).
Telling personal stories is something Kamble plans to continue doing for now. “There are some incidents from my life that I want to share with the audience. Most of my writing, so far, has been a reaction to what I’ve experienced. The process of writing is the most challenging for me. It’s also an endeavour to discover myself,” he says.
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