Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Review of 'Seven Islands and a Metro'

Summary - An interesting movie, albeit one that might have benefited from with crisper editing. On the whole, I enjoyed the movie, though I felt some parts just dragged on for far too long. A must – see for all those who love Bombay, an added attraction is the use of Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai as narrators. The archaic language that Manto and Ismat speak in is charming. I have read some short stories by Manto before, gave me a thrill to recognise some of them in Manto’s dialogues. Though too many of his partition stories were used in the context of the Bombay riots - just one of those would have been far more effective.

The movie delves – err actually makes brief dips into - the lives of all who make up ‘Aamchi Mumbai’- the bar girls, mill workers, night-time tea sellers (the guys who wander around on cycles with a can of tea and plastic cups), construction site workers, kolis (fisherfolk), rich Jains, Christians, Parsis…..everyone.

It introduces one to the history of this city, the forces that have shaped it, how it is changing and why, and the turmoil that the change is causing. I loved the way they introduce the heterogeneity of the people who make up Bombay by combining the visuals of identity papers and the vocals in the background of various people answering an impersonal babu’s questions about their identity. Also loved the picturisation of the 7 islands of Bom Bahai metamorphosing into Bombay.

There were lots of small facts about the city that this movie brought to light. Though I have relished fried Boomla (Bombil in Marathi, Bombay Duck in English) for years, it was during the movie that I realised that they had really sharp teeth. Really enjoyed seeing how their jaws are used to hang them out to dry, and listening to the old Parsi lady and the not-so-old Maharashtrian woman describing the ‘right’ way to cook Boomla.

Another interesting fact about Bombay. In the 1980s, there were 2,32,000 mill workers in this city. Now there are only 30,000 !! I never realised the magnitude of this decrease. Suddenly I want to know what happened to those people, where did they go ? How many of them are currently unemployed ? How many are employed and in what capacity ? By how much has their income / living standard dropped, if at all ? Where do they live now ?

Through snippets of conversations with actual people, the movie takes a look at the social and economic forces that cause tension in the social fabric of the city. The kolis who are angry that no one visits the fish markets anymore as North Indian ‘lungiwalas’ go door-to-door selling fish. The rich vegetarian people who moved into a newly constructed building near a koliwada and now want to evict the original kolis because the smell of fish bothers them. The cemeteries that have been encroached upon by shanties. The pushing and jostling for precious inches of space that causes tempers to rise. The communal tension. The economic disparity. Enough reasons for serious concern about this wonderful city’s future.

I walked out of the theatre with the warm feeling like one gets when you meet a good friend after a long time and spend time going through his/her childhood snaps. Even though in the process of the conversation you may discover that your friend is currently unwell, and you may be concerned about that; when you go back home at night, the overriding feeling is one of happiness at having got back in touch with your friend again.

Zenobia D. Driver

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