Wednesday, September 27, 2006
A frayed rug round his shoulders,
My father came down the Sahyadris
And stood at your doorstep,
With only his labour in his hands.
From "Mumbai" by Narayan Surve
The multilingual Bombay, the Bombay of intolerance, the Bombay of closed mills, of popular culture, sprawling slums and real estate onslaughts, the metropolis of numerous ghettos, the El Dorado. This film is a tale of the cities of Bom Bahia / Bombay / Mumbai, through a tapestry of fiction, cinema vÉritÉ, art objects, found footage, sound installation and literary texts.
The non-fiction feature film is structured around imaginary debates between Ismat Chugtai and Sa'adat Hasan Manto, the two legendary writers who lived in this metropolis, over the art of chronicling these multi-layered overlapping cities. Shot mainly during the monsoon the film portrays some extremely beautiful yet ruthlessly violent features of Bombay which, generally, are not part of the popular narratives.
How does the city look like from the point of view of the men who hang on the sky to clean the glass windows of skyscrapers? How does a monsoon evening sky look like from the point of view of an aspiring migrant entering the city by train? The hypnotism of Bollywood, the aspiration of a mega-metropolis, the possibilities in a multi-cultural city encourages a horde of single women from the sub-continent to jump into the adventure that is living in Bombay.
The spectators get a bicycle ride through the deserted lanes of south Mumbai at the dead of the night with coffee vendors; a young migrant who drives a bulldozer for a living, makes candid confession that he razed his own nest as a call of duty. The Portuguese, the Pathare Prabhu, the Parsee, the Bohri Muslim, the Koli - all professes undying love for the metaphor of Bombay, Bombay Duck. Yet the same Bombay duck turns into the centre of fierce contests over space in Mumbai. While Bombaiyas pray for the well being of their city in the wish making site of Mount Mary church.
The film is a tribute to the spirit of Bombay, which is fascinating and scary at the same time. As a stunt woman from Bollywood (who worked in Sholay, Mard, Sita aur Gita etc.) sums up: hume muhn chhupane ka 2000 milta hai aur muhn dikhane ka 1000. (We get Rs.2000 for hiding our face and Rs. 1000 for showing it).
The film is divided into 7 parts:
1. Checknaka: deals with labour and migration, loss of opportunities and new possibilities
2. Construction Site: deals with stories of looking for homes in Mumbai.
3. Pillion riders: tells the stories of people who are invisible in our social discourse (late night vendors, bar dancers, late night movie goers, stunt woman in Bollywood etc.)
4. Chronology: elaborates on people's contests over the ownership of Bombay
5. Left Luggage: deals with the identity politics and people's loss of hope in the context of riots in 1992-93
6. Reclaimation: Bombay indominatable spirit to reclaim land from the sea and sanity from the chaos.
7. Faith: the city wins, the morning local trains chugs in as a triumph over apprehensions and misgivings.