Makers of 'In Deep Shit' share their experiences: Take a look

Updated: Dec 07, 2016, 15:28 IST | Kusumita Das

The makers of In Deep Shit, a documentary on Mumbai’s sewage workers share their experience of getting more than their hands dirty

Here we see reporter Samdish Bhatia chatting up Raju and Sumit (who didn’t want to reveal their last names) while cleaning the open naala in Chembur
Here we see reporter Samdish Bhatia chatting up Raju and Sumit (who didn’t want to reveal their last names) while cleaning the open naala in Chembur

When a team of about seven to eight people set out to make a documentary on the lives of sewage workers in Mumbai, the question they asked themselves was what could they say or show that had not been done before. Then somebody suggested going inside the sewage pipe. And Samdish Bhatia, who was to be the reporter in the film, volunteered. This was going to be for the next episode of the docu series called Chase, a joint collaboration between online platforms ScoopWhoop and Newslaundry. “I wanted to experience it first hand. The YouTube audience wouldn’t care for a film like this unless you show something stark. The idea was to have a city boy who’s no different from you, doing this,” says the 23-year-old. 

Saurav inside the storm drain in Antop Hill
Saurav inside the storm drain in Antop Hill

The film, titled In Deep Shit, has been directed by Avalok Langer who, like Bhatia, lives in Delhi. The reason they chose Mumbai to make the film, says Avalok, is because the nalas in Mumbai are bigger than in Delhi. “It would have been impossible for Samdish to go inside a Delhi nala and for us to shoot it all,” he says. It was only after the first day of shoot, did they realise what had they gotten themselves into. And the feeling was far from being merely grossed out. “It took us a while to process that these workers do this every day. More than the stench, it was the statistics, the alarming death rates and the lives these guys lead that left us shaken,” says Langer. It’s still hard for us to get our heads around the fact that the stench was the least of their worries. “But it was!” Bhatia says. “The whole area stinks, the smell hits you, but eventually your nose gets used to it.”

Workers at Chembur

Workers at Chembur

Langer and Bhatia also visited one of the workers Raju (he didn’t share his last name), at his home in Govandi. “We didn’t go inside. We sat at the doorstep and chatted. Both he and his family were extremely uncomfortable with our presence — this job is not a source of pride for them,” Bhatia says. Langer adds that most of these workers who are no more than 22 years old, all school dropouts, prefer to hide their job from their close ones. “They don’t work in the nalas near their neighbourhood. One of them, Sumit, who has a girlfriend told us how she has no idea what he does for a living.” These workers make not more than `300 a day and their work involves cleaning the drain, extracting the waste out with bare hands.

Worker inside a storm drain in Dadar
Worker inside a storm drain in Dadar

Outside their jobs, most of these boys are as regular they come. “Raju and I hit it off instantly, we used to crack Govinda jokes. And Sumit showed us his tattoos — outside those nalas, we were just a bunch of guys chilling,” Bhatia says. When it was his turn to go inside the storm drain at Antop Hill, he had only one thought — he couldn’t be the “other” guy in there. “I had to prove myself to the guys in there. The less an outsider I’d seem, the more they’d open up to me,” says Bhatia.

We ask the most obvious question — how did he not throw up? “That’s what my parents asked me too,” he laughs. “I just didn’t. My focus was completely on the issues we wanted to highlight.” Even when he stepped out from what he recalls, was about 200 kilos of excreta, he wasn’t concerned about cleaning up. “I just couldn’t process the fact that they do this every day. Most of them are drunk on the job — they have to be. They don’t even use protective wear like gumboots or gloves or harnesses. Those need to be outsourced from the contractors and if they go missing, these guys are pulled up for it,” Bhatia says. They were shooting in Chembur and their hotel was in Juhu. “I went back to the hotel just like that, covered in shit. Our cab driver was kind enough to let me sit inside. There was no option of cleaning up. Nobody even gives these guys water to drink, let alone clean up. They walk home every day, like that, no matter how far they have to go,” he adds.

“I could never have done what Samdish did,” says Langer. “But, our grossed out feeling pales in comparison of what these guys go through. We returned to normal life at the end of the day. There is no escape for them. They are all Dalits and this is one job they are guaranteed to get.”

The crew had a few close shaves while filming. Samdish had to wear over-sized gumboots and he constantly kept slipping while inside the storm drain. One of the crewmembers fell into the nala, but luckily wasn’t gravely injured. “It was like being in a gushing river, and everything is downstream,” says Bhatia. They also couldn’t figure why these workers don’t use safety equipment. “I brought it up finally,” Avalok says. “I drew the analogy of soldiers, wearing bulletproof vests, while fighting on the borders. They responded, ‘but they are soldiers, saving the country. We are just cleaning shit’. That is the extent to which they are resigned to their fate. And that was the most disturbing realisation,” he signs off.

A walk through Mohammed Ali Road's Khau Galli

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