The Living Mumbai Film Festival 2020
Why do films oscillate between entertainment or education? Why is documentary more real than fiction? Why is the form distinguished from the content? Why is a claim to politics political and not that which shies away from it?
Why is the debate still around whether films mirror society or not? Can films, much like any art or activity, not participate in the affairs of the society? Can it merely be a medium that reflects or represents? Or is it an agency that actively remakes and redesigns?
It is important that we move away from such binaries and question the role of film in the realm of engagement. The question to be explored then is perhaps located in the three foundational elements of democracy — of whom, by whom and for whom.
Living Mumbai Film Festival, part of YUVA’s annual urban festival ComplexCity 3.0, is an attempt to reclaim the idea of public in what is called the public sphere. It aims to initiate dialogue within urban spaces, from people across middle classes to the marginalised communities, to facilitate their engagement in the urban discourse.
Screenings are hosted annually across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, where films that articulate the socio-economic conditions of the city in a way that reframes the homogenised and divides frames of seeing the urban, are screened and discussed.
This year marked the third edition of the festival, from 11 to 21 February 2020. The film festival encompassed 8 films and 13 screenings in areas ranging from Nalasopara, Jogeshwari, Dadar, Dharavi to Chembur, Mankhurd, Belapur and Thane.
The films brought about multiple positions and conflicting interests around surrounding issues of development, environment, migration, culture and health, among others. The discussions focused on encouraging critical reflection and rational dialogue above all.
The festival was hosted at community sites, non-governmental organisations and colleges to interact with people across social locations on urban debates. The question largely remained — who does this city belong to and who belongs to this city? This blog presents a glimpse of the festival.
Development or environment
The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Mumbai is perhaps the sea. What then is the relationship of this city to the sea (especially with many parts of the city built on land reclaimed from the sea)? What are the different ways the people in the city are associated with the sea?
Some people depend on it for their livelihood, others access it as a public space, and some others see it mirrored on the windows of their buildings. The film Samudramanthan throws light on some of these lives, and challenges the popular imagination of the sea, the city, and the development that it is undergoing.
This film was screened at SIES College, Sion, and Terna College, Nerul, respectively. The students came from engineering and management backgrounds, some being active members of the National Service Scheme (NSS) and others of the Rotaract Club. The students spoke about the various existing systems of the city that adversely impact its ecology, festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja and their effects on the aquatic life, and the drainage and waste management systems that directly pressure the sea and the land.
‘While the sea is relaxing for some, it can be overpowering for others’, said a student. ‘We are moving ahead but the sea has its limits. We are limiting the expanse of the sea for construction works but it will resurface itself in some or the other way’, added another participant.
A lot of students mentioned the penultimate shot where the sea is being mirrored on the walls and windows of buildings. ‘It metaphorically states that irrespective of the development taking over the sea, the water body finds its own space in the city’, said a participant.
The discussion post the screening of the film also included students’ personal experiences with the sea. About how the sea is asserting its presence in this fast-moving city, and how we run the risk of total destruction if we do not get the situation under control.
‘Aarey tree felling is a serious concern. And the solution is not tree plantation but conservation’, said a student. He further talked about how government projects do not only impact the environment but also the people dependent on it for their survival such as the Koli and Agri communities.
‘Growth, as we know since the 1970s, is blind to everything. The projects of coastal roads and statues do not think about their impact on ecology’, said another participant. The discussion further led the audience to think about the places they identify the city with. Names such as Fort, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), Dockyard, Bandra–Worli Sea Link, Juhu Beach, Ballard Estate, came up.
As for the people that one sees outside of one’s family or community? A student, after much hesitation, said, ‘panipuri wale’. The entire class erupted in laughter. The discussion left the students with a number of questions. Is the labour of the person who sells on the street or the woman who cleans the house considered as work? And work that contributes to running the economy that the city prides on? Do they feature in our idea of the city? And the people who live here?
Students largely shared the sentiment that we need to strike a balance between development and environment. They discussed what role engineering students like them can play in this scenario as they eventually assume responsibilities in construction projects.
Women in open spaces
What changes when a girls’ football initiative begins to claim open public spaces to play in Mumbra, a far-flung suburb in the Mumbai Metropolitan region? Quite a lot actually!
Khule Aasman Ke Neeche got women of Turbhe, Bandra and Jogeshwari to speak about sports. The film took them back to their school days. A few played hockey, football, kho-kho and athletics in school, and a few others gili danda in the gully. No one continued after school.
Why do girls not play? ‘They don’t go out’, said one participant. What are the purposes that they step out of the house for? Running errands, shopping, meeting friends and family and taking children for coaching were some of the responses.
Is that the same as going out for sports? Everyone nodded in disapproval. ‘When we are playing, we are not concerned with how we appear at the moment. All our mind is concentrated on the game’, said a participant. ‘Wearing shoes and uniform for sports gives a different kind of energy, and nothing can match that’, added another.
Could it be the lack of spaces for play then? ‘There is only one ground near Behrampada, which is the Colgate Ground, where only boys go and play. Girls don’t go there because there are a few men who drink and smoke there. Parents then don’t allow their children and girls to go there’, said another participant.
A girl shared that along with some girls at Jogeshwari, she had formed a football team of their own. The boys who played in the ground would sneer and comment, enough for the neighborhood to dissuade them from continuing.
But why couldn’t they persist? They did not think that girls were physically weak but held that there is a lack of confidence due to how they are socialised from the very beginning. One line in the film perhaps summed it up well: ‘Tum ladki ho, sambhal ke raho, ladki ho, sambhal ke raho, ladki ho, sambhal ke raho’ (You are a girl, be careful, girl, be careful, girl, be careful).
A woman elaborated, ‘We are told to speak softly from childhood. We should be made strong. Boys are given freedom to play without any time constraints. They play in open grounds. They fall, get injured and become physically strong’. It was nice to see the girls come forward for sports, otherwise it is only boys who get that chance, she added.
And hijab-wearing women at that. ‘In many places, people don’t allow hijab-wearing women to play. That is not right. Everyone should have the right to exercise one’s choice of religion. In the film, there was no discrimination based on hijab. Girls came to play with their hijab on. It was fantastic’, added another.
The women ranged from 16 years to some in early 30s, and some participants were well over 60 years. They discussed the struggles of ‘the other sex’ today versus a generation or two ago. If the change over the years was change enough? If the city was open enough for women? And for women of multiple orientations and identities? And how they can occupy and claim spaces for themselves.
Informality of work
Kadak Bai is a daily wage labourer at the Kapurbawdi naka in Thane. Her husband died of alcoholism. She is the sole earner in the family. Poverty lands her in various forms of violence, mental and sexual harassment to name a few.
The film was screened at Panchasheel Nagar, Belapur, and Vashi Naka, Chembur. The former is an informal settlement and the latter, a rehabilitation and resettlement colony (R&R). The women residents, however, share the same story. Displacement from habitat. Lack of means for work. Dependence on domestic work, street vending and work at labour nakas (congregation points where labourers assemble to look for work) for survival. Forced evictions. Inadequate living conditions. Kadak Bai’s struggles with family and work resonated well with the audiences.
‘My story is similar to the one shown in the film. My husband used to drink a lot. I tried to stop him, but could not save him eventually. I struggle everyday but I have not lost hope. I continue to fight’, said a woman.
Another woman shared her story which was no different. ‘My husband drinks and is not able to work. I single-handedly got my three daughters married. I also arrange for my husband’s medication’, she added.
In the film, they believed in the protagonist’s belief in Buddhism and in her dislike of her children being made to sing Hindu prayer songs at school. And in her angst against the authorities for not providing basic services.
One scene that stayed with them was when she recounts her fight with a female municipality officer. It is over a ration card, for which she had been charged five thousand, and was asked for ten more. ‘Jab maine kaha ki paanch hazaar diya phir aur tu das hazaar maang rahi hai, tab hath pakad ke kheecha usne mera. Jaise usne kheecha, waise he maine kheecha. Boli police ko bulayega. Maine kaha ja, bula. Police nahi, police ke baap ko bula’.
(When I said you have already taken five thousand, now you want ten more, the woman grabbed my arm and threatened to take me to the police. I said, call the police, call their superiors too!).
Women lauded that she chose to fight injustice instead of suffering from it. They said that they would bring out their inner Kadak Bai. Face difficulties with self-confidence. And develop grit and determination to more than just survive.
Mental health of children
Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd, has witnessed a high incidence of suicide and other cases of mental health among the younger demographic. The early displacement of children from their habitat during the resettlement process, lack of basic facilities, neglect due to family disputes and single parenting are some of the issues that have contributed to it.
To that effect, screening the Marathi film Killa was an attempt towards creating safe familial spaces for children in the city. The film initiated a dialogue between children and parents of the R&R colony on developing a healthy relation.
The children in the audience shared how they related to the fear of exams, the bond of friendship, and the excitement with respect to the opposite gender, among other things shown in the film.
They identified with the 11-year-old protagonist’s struggle to cope with his father’s death and mother’s subsequent job transfer. Participants spoke about the role of friends in life, the loneliness after shifting to a new place, and the struggle of making new friends.
‘Life is nothing without friends. But it takes a healthy environment to yield good friendships. It is important for children to realise that such bonds can also be developed with family members’, a woman said. ‘The child in the film was very clear-headed. He understood his mother’s tensions relating to work and accepted her job transfers with patience’, she added.
Another parent conceded that ‘we also face tensions at work and we often vent it out on our children’. She added that, ‘it is important that parents responsibly spend time with children so they don’t feel neglected and alienated’.
The children understood the importance of a good relationship between parents and children. And held that both the sides need to develop an attitude of understanding for the same.
Economics of everyday
It was all about women empowerment through their economic independence at the screening held at Bhim Nagar, Nalasopara. The film Bandhan Todvat Yaav was about the journey of two such women’s credit cooperatives of Nagpur who have worked against the odds to set up and sustain businesses independently, facilitated by YUVA.
Women in the audience were aged between 25 and 40 years. They opened up about their need for home-based business opportunities and how they could go about it. They shared that while they tried to save, they did not know the importance of budgeting. That they believed in the concept of insurance but not in the agencies that dominated the industry.
They discussed some handy tips on financial literacy. How they can save and invest money by the virtue of collective strength. That overcoming economic battles alone was not sufficient and each one must struggle on the personal front as well. They must raise questions and take decisions on everyday familial matters to truly actualise freedom.
Land and slum redevelopment
Zameen Apni, Ghar Apna (Our Land, Our Home): The Struggle for Malki Patta in Nagpur had a young audience at Dharavi. It dealt with Nagpur’s urban slum residents’ struggles towards ownership of the land they have inhabited for decades and made habitable. It resonated well with the adolescents who experience a similar situation in Dharavi.
‘50% of houses in Dharavi are not pucca houses. If those people could take an initiative to develop their area, so can we’, said one participant. ‘People here think that we should live with whatever we have got. They do not realise that these are our issues, and that we need to come together and fight for our rights’, added another participant.
The discussion revolved around the Dharavi Redevelopment Plan (DRP). The youth discussed the importance of owning land titles towards eradicating urban poverty. They acknowledged the strength in unity and the long and difficult process towards access of their rights. They discussed the role of the youth in the civic affairs of the community and the strategies used by some youth groups elsewhere to actively take on issues of slum redevelopment.
Culture of fundamentalism
Turup is about three women from Bhopal as they lead their everyday life. An old domestic worker, a young Hindu rag-picker, and a middle-class house-wife. What do they do when faced with discrimination along the fault lines of society?
The audience at Dadar primarily constituted of young homeless women. The film echoed well with them in the way it takes on the idea of family. A girl pointed out the hospital scene and said, ‘The husband’s refusal to buy condom and the wife’s purchase of contraceptive pills reflects the entitlement prevalent among men’.
Another talked about the scene where the middle-class woman asks her husband for money. ‘She is the one who earns, plans the household expense, without spending much on herself, and yet when she talks to the husband for money, she is made to feel as if she is begging, without any respect’.
The domestic worker, Monica’s character, was highly lauded as she asserted herself in the most mundane of situations. Her response to questions like ‘Shaadi hua nahi?’ (aren’t you married?) with a retort like ‘Shaadi kiya nahi’ (I chose not to get married), and to ‘Parivaar toh parivaar hota hai na’ (family is family) with ‘Parivaar toh banana se he banta hai’ (family is not given but made) stayed with the women after the film got over.
Another screening saw middle-aged women from the informal settlements of Belapur. A handful of Hindu women left in the middle of the screening. ‘Parents don’t ill-think about their children’, said one of them. She was hinting at the rag picker’s affair with a Muslim, and refusal to get married according to her family.
Some of the audience members who stayed shared that, ‘the film showed our life’. They appreciated that the women protagonists supported one another despite the existing Hindu-Muslim discrimination in the society.
The discussion concluded on the note that women across education and caste suffer at the hands of patriarchy and that they face physical and psychological problems irrespective of their level of education. And that they should develop their capacity and confidence so they can fight and live without fear.
Written by Aayushi Bengani with inputs from Debolina Roy, Lara, Manoj Gaikwad, Mitchelle, Namdeo Guldagad, Prakash Bhaware, Rekha, Satej Chinchalikar, Taslim Khan, Vijay Kharat and Vindhya Jyoti