‘Kastoori’: A Heartbreaking Story of Social Change and Escape

By Renuka Vyavahare

Story: Gopi, a 13-year-old boy exuding wisdom beyond his years and his best friend Adim, find escape in attar (aromatic essential oils) that offers them momentary escape from their poverty-ridden grim world plagued by death and dirt. After watching his dreams being crushed by everyone around him, it dawns upon Gopi that his real escape is not the fragrance of Kastoori (musk) but his right to education and a better life.

Review: Nadine Labaki’s poignant Lebanese drama ‘Capernaum’ sees a young boy suing his abusive parents for giving him a life riddled with misery and despair. Even if one overlooks the lack of basic needs, care, and respect, why would adults bring children into the world if they can’t even make them smile or allow them a moment of peace? Co-written by Shivaji Karde, director Vinod Kamble’s heartbreaking yet uplifting film on the intricacies of class and caste disparity treads a similar path. He reminds you that you don’t have to be a slave to your surroundings or situation.

Gopi is a Dalit and belongs to a family of sweepers and manual scavengers. The sight of his drunk father burying rotten unclaimed bodies, performing PM (post-mortem) as directed by a local doctor or mother cleaning drained toilets makes his stomach churn. The privilege of choice is not for the needy. Adim is the son of a butcher. Rotten flesh, blood and waste is all the two friends are subjected to. They find solace in the fragrance of an attar, that transports them to a happy place, away from the suffocating stench that engulfs and erodes their existence and dreams.

Despite being one of the brightest talents in his class, Gopi’s mother reminds him that books don’t satiate hunger and like his family, he too needs to follow the role assigned to him by society.

The topic is not for the faint-hearted and can be triggering if you too went through a similar trauma. Despite the suffering you witness, what stays with you is Gopi’s resilience, optimism and heartening friendship with Adil. Kamble keeps the hope alive and reminds you that you are the captain of your ship, you define your destiny. Change is possible. The two children brave the physical and mental hardships to keep going. Sometimes deciding to live is an act of courage. Kastoori salutes this human spirit.

Lead performances by Samarth Sonawane (as Gopi) and Shravan Upalkar (as Adim) are powerful and heart wrenching. They give the film everything it needs – innocence, little joys and hope for a better tomorrow. Kastoori is great filmmaking that demands social change without begging for it. — Times of India