Damul is a 1985 Hindi film directed by Prakash Jha, based on the story Kaalsootra by Shaiwal, a native of Gaya district of Bihar. The story is about a bonded labourer Sanjeevan (Annu Kapoor) who is forced to steal for his landlord Madho (Manohar Singh), to whom he is bonded until death. In a parallel development the landlord’s younger brother kills his labourers who try to flee from his construction site due to low wages. Finally, the landlord’s mistress Mahatmain (Deepti Naval) decides to come out and make a statement before the authorities. Madho keeps the debt-ridden and illiterate lower castes in eternal bondage, using their labour to win elections. There is rivalry between Madho Pande and Bachcha Singh (Pyare Mohan Sahay), a Rajput, who is waiting for an opportunity to settle scores with the former.
Damul makes links between caste, politics, the rural economy and migration. Rajen Kothari’s textured cinematography and mobile camera create just the right setting for a timeless tale of modern-day slavery. Through the unfolding of Damul, the viewer is almost continuously exposed to a series of audiovisual shocks. There is murder in cold blood, there are mass killings of defenseless people, sexual blackmail of a helpless young widow of high caste. The camera captures the subtle nuances of the facial expressions in close-up. The light in the Harijan basti is muted and natural- a glow here, a soft light there, the fiery flames heightening the credibility of the event or scene. The editing is slick without any jerks and jars that the violence could have justified. Manohar Singh is outstanding as Madho Pande. Annu Kapoor as Sanjeevan is very impressive while Sreela Majumder as his wife attracts notice. Deepti Naval’s brief stint as Mahatmain is adequately enacted. Damul remains Prakash Jha’s best film till date.