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Subhash K Jha on <i>7 Islands & A Metro</i>

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By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Documentary Director: Madhushree Dutta

It's not often that we get a visual and spiritual insight into a city like Mumbai. For starters to define its multi-culturism is as tough as to catch a portion of a sky in your hands.

NSD alumni Madhusree Dutta (I Live In Behrampada ) pursues this elusive dream to visually represent what's at best, an idea, a vision and dream called Bombay/Mumbai.

The ethnic enormity of the city is captured not so much in words (though admittedly the narration featuring fictional voices of Urdu writers Sadat Hassan Manto and Ismat Chugtai, does have a rippling resonant effect on the over-all design of Dutta's film) . It's the common people, the grass-root level migrants, the fisher-women and the bar girls, the neighbourhood coffee-wallah from a North Indian village who cycles all night through the sleek streets of the sleepless cities selling instant boosters to the multitudinous dreamers of Mumbai ......These fringe dreamers give an uncommonly tangy and tangible flavour to Dutta's slice-of-life representation of a city that's indescribably restless.

Dutta's cameraman Avijit Mukul Kishore gives priority to people instead of the architecture of the city. While the rich and privileged elite of Mumbai remain largely in the background (except for this stunningly stoic shuddh young vegetarian tycoon who proudly says his plush apartment block keeps meat-eaters out ) the grass-root level comes to life in stinging vignettes of unstaged drama.

The bar-girl who looks emotionless and says, "I get 2,000 rupees to cover my face and 1000 to uncover it"..... the coffee-walla cycling down Mumbai's highway stoically narrates his tragic love story from back home, the stunt queen Reshma who did Hema's famous tonga chase in Sholay, looks at us and says, "Tell me what was a lacking that I couldn't become a top heroine?"

Questions, questions......What drives destiny to favour some, shun most? What drives hundreds of migrants every week into Mumbai, impelling a Koli fisher-woman to look into the camera with her tired eyes to say, "We've be uprooted in our own city by migrants."

Then there's the terrifying underbelly of intolerance growing among the ostensibly decent enlightened section of Mumbayites. One Anglo-Indian woman, well-meaning for all outward purposes , says, "Why do they all come to Mumbai? Don't they've food and jobs in Bihar?"

Madhusree Dutta captures the tough poignancy and amazing grit of a city forever on the edge. The editing (Reena Mohan & Shyamal Karmarkar) is purposely baggy, as though to capture a city without pity running out of time and space, but still finding a core of humanity in its cluttured underbelly.

What adds to the extraordinary tenor of non-judgemental insights are the locations and people, all real and familiar and yet unexplored in a way every individual is.

Seven Islands & A Metro looks at the heart of a city with affection pride and sorrow. The question swimming just below the surface is... does the city gets its looming pride and prejudice from its cosmopolitan profile? Or is that mythical cosmpolitanism now a jaded dream waiting to be wiped out by sectional self-destructive biases?

Thought-provoking, stimulating and sobering 7 Islands & A Metro gets its glorious raison d'etre from its maker's proclivity to look unblinkingly at an indefinable city , not for definitions. Just dreams!

Madhushree Dutta on Seven Islands and a Metro



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