In Vinod Kamble’s ‘Kastoori’, a Dalit boy yearns to free himself of the smells that cling to him

Posted on November 13, 2019


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At the Dharamsala International Film Festival, a powerful drama about a boy who cleans toilets and performs post-mortems in order to pay for school.

Vinod Kamble’s Kastoori (Marathi) opens with an Indian-style toilet filled with shit. The screening at the Dharamsala International Film Festival (DIFF) was attended by a number of school students, and after the film ended, one of them stood up and asked the director why he gave us that image — and by extension, why he gave us the visual that comes later, of an almost-overflowing toilet being unclogged by hand. Vinod said, “In real life, we go to the toilet and don’t think about what happens after we leave. If this shot makes you uncomfortable, then my motive is accomplished.” Adding to the discomfort is the sight of the person cleaning the toilet: a Class VIII student named Gopi (Samarth Sonawane). 

In order to afford school, Gopi cleans toilets. He helps a slightly older relative, who descends into manholes to clean them. He also earns money by burying unclaimed bodies and by doing post-mortems: the government hospital’s doctor teaches him how to wield a scalpel and slice open a body and how to crack open the skull. All of this ensures that there’s always a smell about Gopi: the smell of filth, the smell of death. His classmates — many of them from dominant castes and classes, though the uniforms they wear do not instantly slot them as such — make faces and cover their noses when Samarth passes by. He keeps applying various scents on his self, but nothing seems to help.

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