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.


Anonymous said...

Thank god you saved your footage! did you go to the court later? good to know that one has to pay that little if you get caught. I won't worry now, shooting on the streets.

Banno said...

Abhimanyu, No, I didn't go to court. My producer left with the receipt. We did have a Ministry of External Affairs permission with us since it was a foreign crew. But with an Indian unit, no, you shouldn't have to pay for documentary or news on the streets.

Anonymous said...

fiction, yes, right? if you use a tri pod?

memsaab said...

Dear God. Although I face the same ludicrousness (in different form, but just as stupid and wasteful and greedy) every day at work myself.

Banno said...

Abhimanyu, fiction is a different proposition altogether. Nothing to do with a tripod. But if you are using actors, lights, reflectors, how large your unit is, then you need requisite permissions from the municipal wards, the traffic police and the police.

Memsaab, really? Sometimes I wonder at people's greed. I can understand poor people being desperate, but a lot of people simply want more and more.

Unmana said...

You sound very brave, Banno. I would have been scared stiff. All the best: I hope you don't face any more of that.

Anonymous said...

someone once told me(or read somewhere) in bombay one has to pay when you use a tripod. anyway, i guess i got lucky because i did shoot a bit from a fiction short on the streets in delhi - no lights and reflectors, it was a day shoot, and a very small crew of 5 ppl, including actors!

digresing a bit: read your film reviews in Tehelka and suddenly and pleasantly remembered that you used to follow my old blog. I don't know if you checked out the new one. here it is, a post on that film - http://abhimanyuksingh.blogspot.com/2010/01/on-my-first-directorial-venture.html

Anonymous said...

While on one hand I think it is just another ploy to make some money out of you guys, I also believe, Slumdog Millionnaire has projected a very pathetic image of India. You know, the 'poor bechara image', exactly like the West WANTS to see us. So, when the police say 'This is Dharavi of 40 years ago', then 1) There must be truth in it, that is, Dharavi is still as filthy as it was 40 years ago (2) Maybe we , as Indians, can try to project the positives of Indian society rather than the negatives. Ofcourse, I don't know what your Shoot was about, but I do hope it is not a 'Wester audience catering version of SDM'.

bawa said...

Writerzblock. I loved Slumdog, and for me it presented a lot of pictures, and bechara India was not one of them.
Anyway, i think if we put as much energy into doing something about our problems as we put into protesting about things, we might actually make some headway.

Banno, I would like to draw your attention to this short, made from by the way material that my friends took while they were in Punjab for an entirely different documentary shoot. It is for an internet film festival, and they intend it as a sort of humorous look. You can watch and leave comments as well.


Banno said...

Unmana, it's all part of the job. :)

Abhimanyu, Delhi is different. You can get away with a lot there. Mumbai is too commercial as far as shoots are concerned.

Writerzblock, the point is not what one likes in a film or doesn't. Or the image it portrays. Certainly, that is the choice of the film maker. In India, we have the Censor Board, for foreign crews we have the Ministry of External Affairs. Film makers can't be answerable to each and every person on the street while they are working.

Bawa, I agree. People get so riled about the camera, but do nothing to alleviate the conditions which they are so touchy about being shown.

dipali said...

What an experience:(
You sound so cool about the whole thing:)

ajnabi said...

You sound like you've had a lot of experience with this sort of thing. Or is that just you being cool under pressure as a general rule? Either way, I'm impressed.

Banno said...

Dipali, Ajnabi, yes, it's a lot of experience, but I do like playing cool as well. :)

Pu said...


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