There’s a new god in town, and it doesn’t have a human form. In Ritwik Pareek’s Dug Dug, a motorbike with a pink seat whose owner has died in a road accident becomes the unlikely object of worship.
The vehicle, which the police have seized, acquires a supernatural dimension after it miraculously makes its way back to the accident spot. It’s a hop, skip and jump between a roadside shrine visited by local villagers and a full-blown temple patronised by pilgrims from far away.
The plot isn’t as crackpot as it sounds, Pareek told Scroll.in. He pointed to the Om Banna temple in Jodhpur, which has a similar origin story and where travellers pray to a motorcycle before embarking on journeys.
“We are all tripping on some other level or the other as Indians,” Pareek said. “This is a country of controlled chaos, where you will find absurdity everywhere.”
Pareek’s self-financed project was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021 and was first shown in India at the International Film Festival of Kerala in March. Dug Dug was among the titles selected for the recently concluded Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.
Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Once Upon a Time in Calcutta won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film at IFFLA. Anmol Sidhu’s Jaggi bagged the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature and the Uma da Cunha Award for Best Feature Film Debut.
Pareek’s debut feature is set in a sun-beaten corner of Rajasthan and is in Marwari and Hindi. Pareek was born and raised in Jaipur. His desire to make a film in his backyard was one of the driving forces behind Dug Dug.
That and the books he had been reading about four years ago, when he started dreaming about the film. These included Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, which questions the very existence of the Almighty.
“I am not an atheist but neither am I a blind believer,” Pareek said. Tucked into Dug Dug’s stoner comedy vibe, neon-hot visuals and deadpan humour is a cautionary tale about blinkered faith, Pareek said.
Barring a few, the actors were non-professionals drawn from the film’s location at Ramgarh near Jaipur or people who had appeared as extras in other films.
“Most of the actors were locals whom I auditioned myself,” Pareek said. “I wrote the dialogue and asked them to interpret it in Marwari.”
The actors were understandably befuddled by the film’s unorthodox plot, Pareek said. “They thought I didn’t know what I was doing; they said, what is this movie, but it was fun too,” he added. “I told them not to act but behave as they were, to make it feel authentic and natural.”
The visually striking film, which has been shot by Aditya A Kumar and designed by Ranjit Singh, flows from Pareek’s own background as a designer and illustrator. Before he switched to filmmaking, 30-year-old Pareek worked at the advertising agency Ogilvy India in Mumbai.
“I love all kinds of art and realised that I could use them in films,” Pareek said. Dug Dug has its own colour palette, blue and pink, since “all religions have their own branding”.
“We also wanted something that would pop out in the desert palette, where everything was earthy,” Pareek added. “When I started writing the film, my brief to myself was that viewers should be able to understand what is happening without being told anything through dialogue.”
Pareek also attempted to imagine Rajasthan differently. The state nearly always serves as a pretty backdrop for commercials, films and film songs. “I don’t like the cliched image of Rajasthan, the desert and camels and signature tune Padharo Mhare Desh,” Pareek said. “I hunted for locations that looked like they could have been drawn by hand, as though in a comic.”
The jazz-rock score, by the group Salvage Audio Collective, similarly moves away from convention. While Dug Dug was shot in 2018 itself, its music took some time to fall into place.
“Musicians were coming up with music that didn’t work for the story,” Pareek said. “Salvage Audio Collective got all the layers and metaphors in the story. The whole film is like a vibe, it’s about starting a seed of thought that never stops. That is also why we have long montages, where one finishes and you think that it’s over and then a new thought begins.”