Tuesday, January 26, 2010

boys will be boys

The policeman said: "Wherever the media reaches, there is trouble. The backward places where there is no media, people are poor, they are uneducated, they don't know what is happening around them, they are happy. Educated people cause all the trouble."

He forgot to say, "trouble for us, for the administration", but I wasn't going to correct him, as I was sitting in the police station, charged by local Congress goons for tarnishing the image of Dharavi. I had insisted on coming in the police van, much to the embarrassment of the two police officers summoned by the goons on 60 ft Road.

"No, no, madam, come in your own car."

"No, no,' I said, 'what if I run away? These people (the goons) don't trust me."

"But we trust you, madam."

I jumped into the police jeep anyway, enjoying their discomfiture.

At the police station, the goons kept marching in, until 2 went up to 25. They went on about media people exposing the nakedness of poor people in front of foreigners. I tried to tell them our program was on the industry in Dharavi, but they were insistent that we were shooting gutters.

The cameraman showed them the footage on the tape in the camera. They were impatient and wanted it fast-forwarded. The camera attendant explained that would damage the head of the camera. For 20 minutes, they peered into the viewfinder, looking for incriminating evidence. When they could not find it, one of them said, "What is the meaning of taking so many shots of the road, for so much time?" I said, "I must give you some film editing lessons then."

Offended, they began to rant about a recent documentary appearing on National Geographic that has some shots of children shitting on the roads, and a local activist's interview. It was hard to understand whether they were angrier about the crap or the activist. They all wanted to show him his place.

The angriest one said, "They are showing Dharavi as it was 40 years ago."

Since the said documentary was made a few months ago, at the most a year or so ago, I did not comprehend how it represented a Dharavi from a bygone past. Or what it had to do with our crew. But this was hardly about logic, was it?

Two policemen meanwhile diligently pored through a fat manual, wondering what they could charge me with. The other police staff looked quite fed up. They were all keen to go to lunch.

A little man in white shirt and white trousers showed up. I smiled at him in relief, because he had worked with us on the Secret Millionaire show. Turns out that he is the master brain behind this 'issue'. He has decided that all foreign traffic and all film shoots in Dharavi will be routed through him. So he refused to acknowledge me at first, then tried to bring me around to his point of view.

A couple of his goons came upfront and asked my white producer to dole out 5000/- to each of the goons for the trouble they had taken in creating this ruckus. Luck was on our side, because in fact, we were through with almost all our shoot, except a few general shots. So we could afford not to get agitated. Unable to understand this, they began instigating the policemen to check the back of our car, check all our equipment, check the passports and visas of the foreigners. "Who knows what they are doing here?" one said.

A police official shooed away the goons irritably, "Get out of my office. This is not some criminal or murder case, that you are surrounding her." He grumbled about how these people walked in and out of the station, as if it was their father's kingdom.

The police decided to fine the crew 5000/- on the charge of our not informing the local police station about the shoot. An officer said apologetically, "This is only a deposit, madam. You can go to the court on Monday morning with the receipt. The judge will charge you 2-300 rupees and give you the rest back. It's a minor offense."

The little man called my colleague later to say, "We have all these boys in the party. We have to take care of them. You should help with funds."

The next day, he called me twice, to ascertain where and what we were shooting. "Are you in Dharavi,' he asked, 'I saw your car there." I said, "Am I meant to report to you every morning?" "No, no,' he said, 'just let me know where you are. Then my boys won't trouble you. I had to take them all out last night, to cool them down. We'll talk over the charges later."

I wondered if the boys would not be better employed making more public toilets in Dharavi, rather than worrying about photographs of children shitting. But apparently, the image of Dharavi will remain intact if the little man and his party boys get a commission from the film production budget.

I said to him, "You've done more to spoil the image of Dharavi with your goonda-gardi, than anything we could do with our camera."

He said, "Oh, boys will be boys. We have to employ these low-level types in the party."

God save Dharavi, God save the nation from the party boys.

I must say this for the Mumbai police. There were 7 men in the crew and me. Not once did they question my authority as a woman in representing these 7 men. I don't think that would have happened in many other states, in the country.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

the slumdog children of mumbai


This is a programme that I think I am proudest to have worked on, in all these years. Simply because it was not only journalism at its best and most sensitive, but because the director Nick Read and the production company True Vision are committed to the ethics of working with children and helping them to improve their lives. And on a lesser note, because we shot in the monsoons in the most excruciatingly difficult circumstances.

It is not always pleasant to work in the slums, or on the streets. More than the physical hardships, you are always being quizzed about selling India's poverty. You have your own traumas about the difference between your own life and that of the people you are working with.

When you have lived for any length of time in Mumbai, you stop "seeing" the life on the street. There is so much of it that it can be overwhelming, and you ignore it to get on with your own life.

But while working on this programme, I felt that it is important to give a voice to the people who are usually invisible. I stopped feeling ashamed of my work, and saw that it could be an opportunity to help at least a few children.

The Channel 4 site has an article on street kids, my very limited experience with the children. Please read it here.

The Slumdog Children of Mumbai

Edited to add. The film received a tremendous response with hundreds of emails, comments and enquiries to help the children in the film and others like them. True Vision has built a site dedicated to these children with links to some of the NGOs working for the children, and also ways to help the children directly. Within 48 hours, the Trust Fund for the children has already collected over 8000 GBP.

The link to the site is here Slumdogchildren.org

The biggest challenge is not going to be money, but motivating the children esp. the boys to go to school or vocational training. Any suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It's one of those days

When the doctor says there is nothing wrong with your insides.

When an old man says you remind me of my daughter, may you always be happy and do well.

When Mr. Amitabh Bachchan thanks me in a letter to the editor in Tehelka, for my review of 'Paa'.

When we log in to book a train ticket for Teja for the same day and there are several seats vacant on the train he wants.

When Penguin delivers my complimentary copy of the anthology 'First Proof 5' which has my short story 'Your Room' on page 122.

When it takes only an hour to get home rather than an hour and a half.

When Karmickids gives me the superior scribbler award.

When someone gifts us a pack of dark Toblerones.

When I can spend the evening watching the end of 'Dil Deke Dekho' for a few more laughs before I sleep.

When someone quotes his guru to me and says, "Don't renounce what you have, renounce what you don't have" and that gives me a new way to think about my name, which means 'someone who has the potential to renounce everything'.


When it seems to me that it may not be a bad idea to blow the trumpet for a while, even if it means the ones in the vicinity will shut their ears.



Edited to add: Here's the link to Mr. Bachchan's email on the 'Bouquets and Brickbats' page of Tehelka. Scroll down to a box Appraisal.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

why aren't we in goa?


Teja fiddles with his camera.

He says: "I don't like palaces and forts. Unless I'm studying them for some particular reason."

Dhanno says: "We should go to Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Ajmer. I mean, we should really see the place."

I say: "It's only 15 minutes since we landed here, people. Why did you say yes to Rajasthan? I knew we should have gone to Goa."

Dhanno drools: "Hmm. Prawn curry rice. Pancakes in the morning. Cinnamon apple pie at night."

Teja says unconvincingly: "Oh, I'm OK. This will be fun, too."

Dhanno grumbles: "Yeah. But why are we staying in Udaipur for 3 days?"

I look at the Lonely Planet guide yet again to find out why. I begin to read aloud from it.

Dhanno flops on her bed, and says: "This is like sleeping in a hammock. I'm sinking."



Teja wears his reading glasses, just because I am wearing mine.



Dhanno says: "Both of you act like they are new toys."

I say: "I like the room. It has the same curtains as our bedroom."

Teja laughs: "We should have stayed at home then."

Friday, January 01, 2010

almost a blue moon



In the last 10 years, the birt hday boy has taken
5 years to move from 31 to 32,
4 more years to be nudged ahead with a great deal of haranguing on my part, from 32 to 34,
and another year to grudgingly accept that he was 38 yesterday.

Being born on the last day of the year, for some reason, allows him to to remain a particular age for longer. I being born in the middle of the year, am apparently at a disadvantage. Depending on his mathematical prowess and annoyance quotient of the moment, I have been anything between 40 and 55, in the last 10 years.

Thank god, it was not a blue moon day when he was born. It would have taken him another 19 years to turn 39 (or not!). And I would be called a cougar.