Monday, February 19, 2007

Jari Mari: Of cloth and other stories

A review written by me for a documentary shown to us during our Science and Liberal Arts (SLA) class this semester.

Documentary Name: Jari Mari - Of cloth and other stories
Hindi/ Colour/ Video/ 74 min./2001

Director, Producer: Surabhi Sharma
Photography: Setu Pande
Editing: Jabeen Merchant
Sound: Gissy Michael
Music: D. Wood, Vipin Bhati

Set in the slum dwellings of Jari Mari, an area adjacent to the International Airport in Bombay, the film Jari Mari talks about the inhuman living and working conditions of the people living there.

The film starts with an image of one of the old mills of Bombay where the masses used to go to work every morning but now only a minuscule fraction of the staff come for work to the mill which looks ghostly and deserted.

Moving ahead the subject shifts to a mill worker originally from Bihar. Recollecting glorious days of the mills in Bombay he cites reasons why such a huge and flourishing industry is today broken down into a network of narrow lanes filled with sweatshops. According to the government’s laws, any company with an employee strength above 100 people cannot stop it’s employees from forming an union. This is the main reason why the garment export industry today is fragmented into dotted jobworkers where the employee strength is weak and their pay devoid of any perks, provident funds or any such basic facility.

Shifting focus on a jobworker’s workshop, we are appalled with the huge difference between the money that a tailor gets for stitching a shirt (Rs.10 - 15) and it;s actual retail price abroad ($9.99)

Though the documentary starts with the aim of bringing to light the depleted state of the once flourishing mills but I think the focus gradually shifts to the lives of the people living in the slum colony of Jari Mari.

The first person accounts bring us close to reality and hardships of life. In one such account a lady talks about the hardships she went through while working as domestic help in one of the middle east countries. Away from home for years this widow had to raise money for the upbringing of her three children and later on their marriage as well. As she expressed her desire to go back to the middle east and not be part of inhuman living conditions in Jari Mari, it leaves us wondering that gradually people are losing the pride and pleasure of living in one’s own country.

The documentary is an eye opener for all of us who are happy in our own world of living in the present and not bothering about the future. Nobody today questions as to why did the mills actually shut down? Who are these people who have not paid these workers any compensation and are scot free today? Rehabilitation is promised as usual, but today rehabilitation is just a promise to earn votes and the traces of it remains only in blueprints but not in geography. We hear of lots happening for the ex-workers of mills but none of it gets a tangible form. With shifting timeline and builder’s pressure, soon the landscape of Bombay will change with lesser public spaces and lesser wetlands which would soak up water, leaving Bombay to the continual fate of yearly floods.

Summing it all up and having attended four SLA classes in four semesters, I am left wondering that how much we as designers are doing for any social cause? We probably only cite examples where we feel that a problem exists and leave it there without a solution. It is quite a pathetic situation when we are blind all six months in a semester waiting only for a one week SLA course to open up our eyes about what is actually happening around us. It’s time we ask ourselves, “Are we really needed or are we just satisfying our egos”? But I guess we need to be optimistic for atleast we have started asking the right questions.