Poetry, paintings & memories  (an article on the film)

I had no home. Nor relatives. But as much of land as I could walk on, and shop sheds. The municipal footpaths were for free.
-- Narayan Surve in Mazhe Vidyapeeth

These lines mirror the feelings of many an immigrant coming to Mumbai with nothing more than hopes and dreams -- making the city their home or plain looking at it as their muse. This time, husband-wife duo Anjali Monteiro and K P Jayasankar have been inspired to capture the downhill journey of life in Mumbai nee Bombay. Called Saacha (for the ‘reality’ behind the ‘looms’ of Mumbai), their film is about a poet, Narayan Surve; a painter, Sudhir Patwardhan; and a city, of course, Mumbai -- exploring the works of Surve and Patwardhan, and their involvement in the Left movement. To be screened at the Little Theatre, NCPA, on April 12, the film also looks at Mumbai as the origin and centre of the working class movement in India.

A talk with the makers revealed more than what went into the making of this film which won second prize at the New Delhi Video Forum, this year.

Colleagues at the Unit for Media and Communications of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Monteiro and Jayasankar despite not having learnt film-making as a subject -- have jointly won 10 international awards for their videos. These include the Prix Futura Berlin 1995 Asia Prize for Identity -- the Construction of Selfhood and Special Mention of the Jury at MIFF ’96 for Kahankar: Ahankar. Says Jayasankar: "When it comes to making our films, Anjali and I work best together. We don’t really have any crew, for it’s the only two of us and maybe a sound recordist." But for Saacha, apart from the production team, they also needed translators for Surve’s Marathi poems. So, there was Jatin Wagle, Abhay Sardesai and Mangesh Kulkarni for translating the works.

What started as a project on Mumbai, soon become a passion, for now the duo want to make more films on Mumbai. First in the series, Saacha is about the city’s rapidly changing working class -- which, they feel, in another 10 years will completely vanish. "While it was an obvious choice of subject after staying here for almost two decades, during the course of making the film the loom became a metaphor. And with two strands used in looms to make the fabric come together, we thought of bringing in two individuals," explains Jayasankar, who appreciated Patwardhan’s work as a painter and felt he had the perfect foil for him in Narayan Surve.

But they did not choose them only because they wanted a poet and a painter. Surve and Patwardhan have also been involved in the Left movement. Says Jayasankar: "They also represent two generations -- Patwardhan from the ’70s and Surve from the ’30s and ’40s. We wanted to show two people who had climbed the same mountain from two different sides of the peak." While Surve was abandoned when he was a few months old -- a mill worker on his way to work found him, took him home and gave him a name -- Patwardhan comes from a middle class family. Like them, many people from the working class make up Mumbai. "Today, Mumbai is being portrayed as a very glamourous city. But people forget that a city’s backbone is its work force, which is now being pushed aside," says Monteiro.

Jayasankar agrees: "At one point of time, Mumbai had many mills. Gradually they began shutting them down, replacing them with skyscrapers, using them for elitist activities. Economically, the city is therefore losing out on a larger scale, with the middle class largely growing intolerant of the lower sections of society." In short, attitudes are changing. So do they see the changes in the city, especially with many an international company coming in, as the beginning of a large economic crisis? "Yes, certainly," says Jayasankar. "Initially, there was this great euphoria about globalization. But gradually it will affect us all. Especially with cheaper Chinese goods entering the market. Already local business is being affected, with many enterprises shutting down. And long-term affects on the entire manufacturing industry cannot be denied."

Also touching upon the fact that some of unemployed mill workers’ children turned to crime, Saacha does not dwell much upon what happened to these workers after the mills were shut down. Asked why, Monteiro says: "No, we didn’t want it to be that way. We don’t want to stereotype this aspect as saying that ‘this happened, that’s why this happened’. Besides, not many mill workers’ children turned to crime. Many also became taxi drivers, took jobs in other service sectors and so on." But what looms large, however, is that the looms (saacha) of Mumbai are falling silent, the reality (saacha) to which Monteiro and Jayasankar have given another voice.

Copyright © 2001 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.