India is said to be the only country in the world where manual scavenging, though completely illegal, is practiced with impunity.

Manual scavenging is defined as the act of cleaning sewers or removal of waste from toilets without the use of safety equipment. The untreated human excreta are removed from pit latrines or bucket toilets using buckets or shovels by hand.

There are mainly three forms of scavenging as defined by the International Labour Organization, that is septic tanks cleaning, removal of human excreta from dry latrines and gutters and sewer cleaning.

Despite the Manual Scavenging Act passed in 1993, and amended with a Bill in 2006 that prohibits employment as manual scavengers, sewer holes across the country are cleaned manually, leading to the death of innocent persons (a) due to negligence on the part of the state that (b) employs them contractually and therefore illegally, (c) does not provide them with adequate safety measures, (d) due to the tragic fact that these men are born into the profession and (e) last, but not the least, they belong to the lowest tier of the caste ladder among Hindus in India. They are considered ‘untouchables’, shunned by the very mainstream which, ironically, cannot exist without their service on a day-to-day basis.

Vinod Kamble, who began his life as a manual scavenger himself and later succeeded in graduating from the FTII, Pune, has made a film on two boys of who, one is forced to help his father in manual scavenging though he loves to go to school. The name of the film is Kastoori in Hindi and the film has already been praised at national film festivals.


“The film is inspired by the true story of Sunny Chavan, a young boy who assisted his father in conducting post mortems and found the experience quite disgusting but he had no choice. Sunny began doing post mortems from the time he was in the 8th standard. I read about this boy in a newspaper and he reminded me of my own childhood. I began helping my father who was a manual scavenger from the time I was in the 5th standard. I also helped my grandmother in her duties as a scavenger. As a growing child, I could not do anything about the very bad deal I got from people and so, I identified with the tragedy of Sunny’s boyhood and decided to make this film,” says Vinod Kamble.

Kastoori was nominated at the New York Indian Film Festival Kastoori for three awards, Best Film, Best Director and Best Child Artist. Kastoori had its world premiere at the MAMI Film Festival in 2019.

Kamble took a degree in engineering, the first among his caste and village to do so. He followed this to assist in a Marathi language film called Mhorkhya in his native place. This was followed by his first short film Grahan in 2015. This film won the Best Promotional Short Film at the Mumbai Short Film Festival in 2016. It was also selected for screening at Cannes in the Short Film Festival in 2017.

“When I was applying for the job of an engineer, I wrote a script on the back of the question paper during an exam. It suddenly struck me that I was in the wrong place and I did not belong here. I had seen 3 Idiots and one particular scene had stayed with me. I decided then and there that all I wanted to do was to be a filmmaker,” he says. Of course, his father was as angry as he was shocked and said he would throw Vinod out of the house. But his mind was made up and the next step was to join FTII.

Kamble returned to his hometown in 2014 and joined a theatre company. “I started working on plays, and later assisting on films. I learned a lot during that period. I also did a month-long course in film appreciation from FTII.” His father did not wish him to pursue education when he was in class X and Kamble was intent on educating himself.

“But my father was apprehensive because he felt that I would not be ready to step into his shoes once I got education which is right because I just wanted out. I was disgusted with the kind of behaviour and looks mainstream people treated us with.”

This was like a knife that cut both ways. If he went on to study more, he would be unfit and unprepared to continue with the traditional work of doing post mortems and cleaning pits and excreta. If he did study, his family and his community would count him out.

“The word “kastoori” means “musk” and is a secretion from the popularly known as Musk Deer found in the Himalayan mountains. The film is titled so because it throws up a unique perspective on the psyche of a 14-year-old boy who is a manual scavenger and is also initiated into the work of doing post mortem on unclaimed bodies.

He is almost obsessed with the bad odour on his body that keeps his classmates away and he feels sad about it. This “smell” that is the part of the body of a scavenging boy becomes an inseparable part of his identity and he cannot shake it off. So, Gopi, the protagonist of the film, is forever trying to rub off the bad stink with ittar he keeps hidden at his small shanty but when it is not enough, he goes in search of kastoori.

Does he get it and is he able to rub the smell off his stinking body? That forms the essence of Gopi’s journey. The film charts this child’s emotional journey in which he comes across conflict between mirage and reality which later resolves to find the “self” says Kamble.

The entire film was shot at a single schedule of 40 days in Barshi District, Sholapur in Maharashtra which is Kamble’s native place where he had grown up as a child. The film would never have been made without the funding from eight ladies who pooled in to finance the film and Kamble is ever grateful to them for making Kastoori possible.

The most outstanding quality of the film is its authenticity. Kamble auditioned 500 local boys for Gopi and Abid before he was satisfied and the two boys, not having faced the movie camera before, are incredibly natural and spontaneous. The close bonding their share is another sub-plot of the story.

Kamble achieves this without trying to underline the communal identities of the two boys because it is there for all of us to see directly in the film. Kamble shot the entire film in a single schedule of 40 days in Sholapur, Maharashtra where he hails from. The characters speak a Sholapur-accented Hindi which sounds quite different from the Bambaiya Hindi. Kastoori is a very subdued film and nothing is overdone or romanticised. It also has a naïve innocent about it as the two boys are naïve too.

“The statement I wish to make through Kastoori is that every child should be able and allowed to get his right to education regardless of his social status. It will give him self-esteem and he can live with dignity,” he sums up.