Stories from the mega Mumbai

The idea for the film Megacities (1998), the first in a trilogy by director Michael Glawogger, emerged from an article that he read in Newsweek in 1995. “The article said that from that time on, more people on this planet live in cities than in the countryside.

A still from the documentary, Megacities (1998), which traces the myriad faces that work behind-the-scenes in the city. The still shows a worker making ochre colour for Holi

It felt to me like a turning point in human history. I was thinking about writing a fictional film where the whole earth is one totally uncontrollable city. It started and didn’t succeed because I didn’t know enough about the real life in big cities. By the time I finished the film I got intrigued by the concept of exploring life in different places around the globe, that I hadn’t done until then,” he says.

The fascinating and, at times, shocking film showcased the contradiction that the inhabitants of Bombay (now Mumbai), New York, Mexico City, and Moscow encounter in their day-to-day life. The story is narrated through a tale of 12 episodes about people struggling to survive with resourcefulness, humour and dignity, and the one illusion they all share — the dream of a better life.

Glawogger states that he wanted to explore what cities do to people and how human behavior changes when so many people surround you. He also adds that there was a conscious attempt to be as non-judgemental as possible. “Be it megacities, workers or prostitutes — the reality is always more complex and surprising than told by those people who made a theme or an issue out of it. The human soul, surprisingly, is a diverse field,” he states.

A still from the documentary, Whore’s glory (2011) which delves on the life of prostitutes around the world

Among the various cities where the film was shot, Glawogger reminisces that the areas of Govandi, Shantinagar and Dharavi were especially challenging thanks to the curious onlookers that surrounded them. “The sequence of the train ride into Mumbai was a real challenge. Sometimes, it took us four hours for one shot. In Russia, on the opposite, everybody pretended that we were not there; it was like we were invisible.

In Mexico, people have to know you very well to open up to you, whilst in the US the normal citizen wants to be part of a movie, whatever it might be.” While the film was made and released more than a decade ago, Glawogger feels that its relevant even in today’s times.

The remaining two films that make up the trilogy will be showcased over the next two months, thanks to an initiative by The Root Reel and the Indian Documentary Foundation (IDF). Says Anjali Vyas, Foundation Director of the IDF, “Megacities has been invited to more than 50 festivals around the world. The film focuses on dignity of labour — the choices one has to make or is forced to make for survival.”

She adds that the idea behind screening these documentaries is to ensure the public has access to good quality documentaries that are not easily available.

On Today, 6.30 pm; At Alliance Francaise Auditorium, Theosophy Hall, New Marine Lines, Churchgate; Call 22035993

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