LIFF 2002 Special Review: Dug Dug

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Dug Dug (dir. Ritwik Pareek, 2021)

Nightfall. Orchid pink and turquoise blue lights illuminate a roadside dhaba. A man – who we will learn is named Thakur – takes a swig out of a bottle, lights a cigarette, and then heads to his pink and blue Dug Dug motorbike, as a voiceover muses: “In the ashes of this cosmos, I have been seeking the elixir, but the light only knows, where the darkness is hiding. Just stop searching. Don’t go wasting your time. Only those reach their destination who have lost themselves in the lines.” In a bit of irony, Thakur risks his life swaying all over the road, not paying attention to those lines, and his destination ends up being a roadside billboard with the image of Jagudar PP Sharma on it – clearly a nod to magician OP Sharma. It’s not the fall from his motorbike that kills him, however – in one of the film’s many quirky moments, he falls over, puts his helmet on, and then is run over by a lorry. His body is taken away, and his motorbike ends up at the local police station.

The morning following the accident, the motorbike is suddenly nowhere to be found, and a search soon reveals that it’s back at the accident site. The police take ever more stringent measures to secure the bike, to no avail. The motorbike repeatedly ends up at the site where Thakur died, beneath the magician’s billboard. Thus begins the mystery of the motorbike, and the whole community begins wondering what the significance of it is. One shepherd tells the people who gather that he had a dream in which Thakur appeared, screaming that his soul was standing at the gates of heaven, whose doors are locked. Thakur, he claims, is afraid of being sent to hell instead, and the shepherd believes that the way to help will be to make a shrine on the spot where Thakur met his end, and to offer prayers for him. Pretty soon others in the gathering share stories and sightings of Thakur and the mystery of his Dug Dug motorbike. Slowly, slowly, the wheels are set in motion to create a shrine for Thakur and his bike. And like any mystical, spiritual site, people begin to seek out Thakur’s shrine, and everything expands and inflates like the balloon a peddlar blows up, his cart next to the shrine. Pretty soon there are businesses named after Thakur, and eventually there is a full-fledged religious site where there was once just a magician’s billboard.

Director Ritwik Pareek was inspired by the mystical and somewhat mysterious shrines of Rajasthan that he visited with his grandmother, and his film explores issues of faith, miracles and magic, things that have often find themselves bumping up against each other as people try to explain things that seemingly have no explanation. The film is incisive and charmingly irreverent, and Pareek places contradictory ideas beside one another and allows us as viewers to come to our own conclusions. The funky, jazzy music by the Salvage Audio Collective (whose most notable work is, perhaps, Zoya Akhtar’s film Gully Boy) provides a brilliant counterpoint to a situation that soon grows and expands almost out of control. Adithya Kumar’s cinematography, too, is glorious, especially in the film’s opening moments. And the film merits a careful viewing, too, to watch where Pareek slips little details in, such as the pandit who rides in a luxury car, who insists that God is not listening to people anymore because He’s tired of being offered sweets all the time. So much is said by watching the things that happen without much direct attention being placed on them, including the fact that there is one person in the community who knows the secret behind Thakur’s motorbike, but once things are set in motion, not even he can escape the influence of the newly sainted Thakur, who grants him, ironically, the one thing he desires the most. Is it superstition? Or is it a miracle? Dug Dug shows us that they are, sometimes, indistinguishable.

Dug Dug had its European premiere and was showcased at the London Indian Film Festival 2022. The festival continues in London, Birmingham and Manchester and you can find out more on https://londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/. Plus see what you can watch online at https://www.loveliffathome.com/

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