Meghna Haldar: Dirt goes hand-in-hand with the sacred
Three questions: Meghna Haldar, Canada-based filmmaker
Q. Why did you choose a subject like dirt for the eponymous 2008 documentary?
A. Dirt is an introspective essay film. I like to use metaphors as a way to see the world. After 9/11, I began to see dirt as a metaphor for otherness. The definition of dirt is ‘matter out of place’ and I began to wonder how that might translate into human beings who are considered dirty. For me, dirt goes hand-in-hand with the sacred; I see it as part of a continuum, inherent to the human condition.
While the film was made in 2008, I asked the NFB (National Film Board of Canada, the producers) to renew the licenses so that I could show it in India (this marks the first screening in Mumbai). With the National Cleanliness Campaign, I felt it was an apt time to show the film here and listen to the conversations that unfold.
Q. Where have you shot the documentary?
A. I shot in Texas where I first felt the taint of ‘otherness’ post 9/11. Gradually, I travelled to other places like Kolkata (where I filmed the Durga Puja) and Delhi (where I met a toilet cleaner) and later, in New York (where I met the sanitation artiste and filmed at Ground Zero and a landfill). In Vancouver, I shot in the downtown areas, which are considered dirty because they are overrun by the weakest and impoverished. I also shot in New Mexico where dirt is considered to have healing properties. Unfortunately, Mumbai is not a part of the documentary because I was not familiar with the city during the shooting process.
A poster of the film
Q. How did you make the film visually appealling?
A. I shot on Super 16mm film for the most part because of its material. Film is subject to decay. Dust and dirt stick to it. I wanted to treat dirt visually like one would treat perfume or beauty because like death, it is our one constant companion in life.
The 82-minute documentary, also featuring animation — created with real pieces of spit, hair and bones — divulges into the meaning of dirt, spanning the divine to the profane, in different parts of the world. Haldar, who has previously dabbled with subjects like violence against women (Bol) and immigrant experiences in Newcomers Swim, Every Friday and Where are you Marianne? is currently working on an Indo-Canadian drama feature. She is also a faculty at an art and design university in Vancouver.