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Mumbai's mills loom over London

Synonymous with skyscrapers and towering ambitions, Mumbai has always been known as a city of fortune. In contrast then, Saacha (The Loom), a 2001 documentary by the multiple award-winning duo — KP Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro — portrays how the common man’s sweat and toil laid the foundations of making Mumbai, the first megalopolis of the country.


Movie still from Saacha (The Loom) showing a cotton mill worker overlooking the production process

As part of the Tate Modern exhibition, Saacha will be showcased as a unique commentary on Mumbai’s mills and the associated Left movement through two iconic figures — Narayan Surve, the Marathi poet and Sudhir Patwardhan, who had been concentratedly associated with the movements in differing manners.

“Patwardhan had always been one of our favourite artists, for his evocative and haunting images of the city and Surve’s simple and powerful verse was an appropriate counterpoint. While both artists were broadly a part of the Left movement, they were from different generations, class backgrounds and had very different ideas about the relationship between art and life,” Monteiro shares.

She goes on to explore the metaphorical meaning of The Loom, where weaving is conceived of both — the cotton and “a complex socio cultural fabric” as per her. Sharing how the vocalisation began, she articulates, “To our mind, the textile strike and the subsequent closure of the mills were landmark events that fundamentally altered the cosmopolitan and proletarian fabric of the city. We thought of working with image and word to imaginatively represent a city that was fast slipping away before our eyes.”

The film contains auditory gems keeping the bygone time in mind, she relates, “We have used working class music from the 1940s and 50s, specially the songs of Annabhau Sathe, who was an important cultural icon, sung by Shahir Amar Shaikh Kala Pathak. We felt it was important to document and present this music. This apart, we have used the Champi ‘Sar jo tera chakraaye’ song from Pyaasa, with visuals of an Irani restaurant, which we felt went with the mood and ambience of the space.”

From the humdrum of trains to dilapidated mills that Surve narrates in, the duo have given Mumbai’s spaces alternate meanings as per the changing times. Monteiro shares, “The Irani restaurant in the beginning is a space of magic and nostalgia, when it recurs it is a commonplace image. The woman selling tomatoes is an everyday image. When the frame appears later in the film, it is a turbulent image. She is trying to hold on bravely to her livelihood, the painter to his images, the poet to his words...”

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