Thursday, December 20, 2007

constructed reality

As if I needed another reason for my dislike of reality shows. My friend, A. called me to say that the winner of a reality show we had worked on a few years ago, was now in Kerala recuperating from a nervous breakdown and trying to lose weight of an abnormal kind. She had gone up to 30 stones, where she broke commodes when she sat on them, and could no longer walk. We knew her when she was set to win on a talent show for British Asian young people aspiring to be Bollywood actors, and she never understood what hit her after the television cameras capturing her every sniffle and smile, turned away. Bollywood did not beckon.

I worked briefly on a reality show last week, the fag-end. I found yet again, the atmosphere as vitiated as it had been on the earlier show. Producers huddled up all day, exasperated with the contributors, trying to drum up more interesting, more sensational stuff, as they wallowed in mindlessly mind-boggling numbing details about each and every moment and thought in the contributors' minds. The contributors', tired with the close inspection of their hearts and souls over weeks, were irritable and querulous as children, getting more and more spoilt with the unnatural attention. The rest of the crew gossiped in mildly superior tones about the producers and the contributors, believing they were intellectually beyond the work they were doing.

But the truth is, the nature of work one is doing, affects one's self-esteem, one's well-being. I did a more strenuous shoot for 4 months this year, but because it involved journalistic stories on the changing Indian economy, I felt inspired, buoyed by the amazing stories of ordinary and extraordinary people who make the country tick. I never had the inclination to be tired. Whereas, in 4 days of this shoot, I felt exhausted, close to falling ill, and cheapened and humiliated, questioning my own motives in taking up work that I did not believe in.

The best day for me was when the cameraman and I went off on our own, shooting GVs (general views) of the city. Running across streets following a religious procession on its way to Shirdi, weaving through cars with a man selling Santa hats, crossing roads with school children, wandering through clothes stalls on the streets, walking, walking all day, my bones ached but I was happy.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

reality tour

"Dharavi has a population of 1 million people living in an area of 1.75 sq. kms. The area generates 665 million US$ after taxed, and probably as much in undeclared income, from the thousands of industries that operate there", our tourist guide, courtesy Reality Tours and Travels rattled off.

Though I have shot several times in Dharavi, it's mainly been on the Dharavi-Sion Hospital 60 ft. road, and general shots. I've been into the tiny lanes a couple of times researching a character. So, I was up for the "Reality Tour" that my colleagues were going to take, prior to our shoot there next week.

The young boy who was taking us around lives in Mankhurd, New Bombay. His father saw the advertisement in the papers, and said he should check out an opening for tourist guides. I didn't get around to asking him why? Perhaps his father thought he needed a reality check, perhaps he thought it would be a good experience, perhaps this boy was not doing anything else. Whatever the reason, our 20 year old guide was as awestruck by his own experience of Dharavi as he was about showing it to us.

We were a little impatient, I confess. Being documentary film makers, we've seen a lot of "real India", and we had more questions than he had answers to. Two of us, who are women, also didn't take too kindly to his notion that his job would be too tough for a girl to handle. Or that we wouldn't be able to walk for 2 & 1/2 hours. We did a full 7 hours of walking yesterday (and me, once again on high heels. What's with me, and wrong shoes? I hadn't been stupid, just didn't know the agenda.)

I was inclined to be more lenient however, just because he was so young, 20. I've reached that age, when a 20 year old could be my kid. And I remember how incredibly silly I was at 20. I lived within the covers of a book, and I thought of my life as a novel. I just thought I had to turn a page, for something new to happen, and that if things got bad, all I needed to do was to close the covers. So when it did, reality hit me hard.

Anyway, it's a decent tour. It's not intrusive, they have a no-cameras policy in a lot of places, and the ease with which the young guide walked in and out of workshop premises, and his exchanges with the people there, reflected a good, friendly relationship between the tour company and the people living and working in Dharavi.

Of course, because since we two women were walking with a Western guy, everyone assumed that we were foreigners, though we look 100% Indian, and I was wearing a salwar kameez. It's only when we answered questions in Hindi, and I showed off my Marathi, that the kids believed that we were from Mumbai. Not many Indians take the tour.

And yes, though Dharavi is an unexpectedly safe place to be in, easier for a tourist to walk around in than Colaba with it's scores of beggars and vendors haranguing you, banks and credit card companies black-list Dharavi residents, and don't give them loans and credit cards that easily. It's the same with film people, so I'm not shocked, though I make appropriate noises of commiseration, when the local cable guy tells me what it's like to live in Mumbai-17.

The best part of the tour for me, was to climb up the asbestos roof of one plastic recycling unit, and see the asbestos rooftops of all the other units spread out, like another world altogether, people drying out plastic pellets, piles and piles of plastic stored for future use. I'd only seen these asbestos shacks with plastic piles on top from the road, but from the rooftop one couldn't see the road at all. I've always been fascinated by rooftop/terrace worlds.

The recycling industry is I think a model of Indian ingenuity. Everything from old drums to CPU backs to shaving creams past their expiry date (recycled into washing soap) is used up. It satisfied my Indian, middle-class soul.

Friday, December 07, 2007

wasting time

So, of course, spent the first free morning I had, fiddling around with my blog, labeling ALL my posts, so I could do away with the archives, and other such completely faltu stuff. Instead of some serious writing. I guess I deserved a morning off.

Why does Mumbai make us feel so anxious? I wake up in the morning, and by the time I'm through with the newspapers, I feel a sort of desperate, though quiet panic within me. Yesterday, Dhanno said, "There's so much to do, how am I going to have enough time?" I, of course felt guilty for all the lectures Teja and I have ever given her on how she should use her time well.

Today morning, the papers report the suicide of a IXth Std boy in Mumbai. His poor parents say he was a friendly, happy child. But having run into some trouble with Dhanno, earlier this year, I know how much children can hide from their parents. We've done enough of that ourselves, as kids.

And wasted more than enough time, too.