Dug Dug

TIFF 2021: Dug Dug Review

A religion can only survive if it has a healthy congregation behind it and a message its worshipers can believe. Filmmaker Ritwik Pareek takes this formula to absurdist heights in his delightful satire Dug Dug, a film which observes how blind faith can be spawned out of the most unlikely of places.

When we first meet Thakur, he is stumbling out of a bar drunk. As if fate was serendipitously shining down on him, a web of pink- and blue-strung lights outside the establishment turns on just as he strikes a match to light his cigarette. Basking in the neon glow of the lights momentarily, Thakur proceeds to hop on his motorcycle—the film’s title refers to both the motorcycle brand and the sound the engine makes when starting—and rides off, despite clearly being under the influence. Momentarily distracted by a strange billboard on a rural road, Thakur is involved in an accident that leaves him bisected.

While a tragic end, not much is made of the man’s death at first. The police impound his bike as they conduct their investigation and life seemingly goes on like normal. That is until Thakur’s motorcycle mysteriously winds up back at the crash site. At first, the police think it was a prank that someone is playing on them. However, when the motorcycle repeatedly disappears from police custody, with all the locks and chains still intact, locals begin to speculate that it is a sign from above.

It is here where Pareek’s film forgoes a traditional structure and takes a freeform, and montage-heavy, approach to observing the life cycle of a religion. While never reaching documentary-level detail, Dug Dug draws clearly from aspects of numerous faiths to build its absurdist tale. With no central character to follow per say, aside from the bike itself, Pareek’s film gleefully moves from the genesis of the religion, starting with a priest convincing the police that Thakur is a messenger of God, to its evolution into becoming a financial cash cow.

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The amusing thing about Thakur becoming a deity that is worshiped is that it is clear very few knew the man on any meaningful level. The fact that his love of booze turns into a sacred offering at the alter the motorcycle is elevated on is further proof of this. Using the metaphor of a giant pink balloon being blown up to reflect the swift growth of the Thakur’s religion, Pareek effectively touches on the ways the commodification of religious icons is essential to any religion’s success.

In the films most amusing moments, Pareek highlights the various people who cash in on Thakur’s popularity, including those who name their businesses after him, and then claim that their success is a gift from God rather than obvious name recognition. The film also takes pointed jabs at the politicians, police officials and other prominent religious figures who are quick to jump on the bandwagon when they see it will be beneficial to their image.

While there is one officer who is openly reluctant to buy into the hype, Dug Dug never delves into the character deep enough to make the final moments hit as sharply as they should. This is where the film stumbles somewhat.

While Pareek is clearly a student of religious doctrine and tropes, the film misses the fact that it is usually another individual, a parent, relative or friend, who introduces one to a religion and its practices. The lack of a person to truly connect with leaves the viewer to merely observe the rituals from a distance.

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Showing how the desire to believe in something greater than ourselves can open the door to unchallenged idolatry, Pareek’s film is a bold and sharp satire. Utilizing quick cuts, montages, a vibrant colour palette, and imagery that manage to give Thakur’s bike a personality of its own, the film is a visual delight.

While not quite a religious experience, the absurdist humour and biting commentary on the commercialization of faith makes Dug Dug worth the pilgrimage.

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