View from the margins

May 06, 2012, 11:56 IST | Kareena N Gianani

This week, a group of 20 students will screen six films on the lives and issues of people in Mumbai's M Ward, which has the city's worst Human Development Index (HDI). The films bring unexpected community leaders to the fore and shatter prejudices

In July 2011, when 23 year-old Shweta Ghosh walked into Koliwada in Trombay to make a documentary, enthusiasm was not the only thing she carried with her — assumptions trotted merrily alongside her camera. Ghosh, a student of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), was out on the field with three other students to film the fishermen’s community in the area and was sure they’d tell her about their distress due to land acquisitions over decades.

Instead, the first issue a community member spoke to her about was how Koli music is turning “dhik-chak-dhik-chak”. They even had a term for it — Koli Techno. “The traditional Koli song where the woman mourned her husband’s absence while he was at sea has now been remixed with a catchy tune, luring him back,” says Ghosh. The current generation has no time to fret over the land acquisitions that happened in the past — the biggest issue for most Kolis is how to convert their home into a “teen manjla ghar”, or have a better life. Ghosh’s film, Fish Tales, explores these unexpected narratives of Kolis and the challenges they face as their traditional customs and occupation (fishing) face threat from the ‘modernity’ of the world outside Koliwada.

Sumit Singh (in blue) at Jai Ambe Nagar. PIC COURTESY/ Kaikho Paphro 

Fish Tales, along with five other films — From the Margins, Do Andolan, Cornered City, City’s edge and Kahani Pani Ki — will be screened at the TISS campus in Deonar on May 8. The documentaries are part of TISS’s five year-long M Ward Initiative, which began in June 2011. The M Ward covers Trombay, Chembur, Mankhurd, Govandi, Deonar, Shivaji Nagar, Mandala, Nirankari Nagar and the surrounding slum areas. The initiative aims at building partnerships among communities and community leaders, research and data collection and implementation action plans.

“The M ward is the epitome of contradictions in Mumbai,” says Prof Amita Bhide, a team member of the M Ward Initiative, who guided the students during the shooting. “In Mumbai, more than 54 percent of the population lives in slums, but in the M Ward, 85 per cent of the population does so. The M Ward has the lowest Human Development Index (0.2) in the city. These movies aim to capture the faces behind these numbers, bring their issues to light with an academic approach and seek intervention from the concerned authorities,” she says. The screening will be attended by NGOs, community members and local ward officers. These documentaries, along with the research and data collected from other sources will be part of a conference in July where stakeholders and government authorities will come together to consider respective proposals to better the quality of life in the M Ward.

Twenty-four year-old Sumit Singh, who filmed the movie, Do Andolan with four others, says surprises aren’t hard to find in the M Ward. Do Andolan is about two community leaders — the fierce Rabia and the more restrained Manisha — who were responsible for women’s participation in the 2005 Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan that fought against repeated BMC demolitions in Jai Ambe Nagar and Sathe Nagar.
Singh says it was not easy to find a “non-media-rehearsed” person in the community. “It is ironic that they know what is happening around them, but such little has been done for them,” he says. He was the first person the community called when they was a demolition drive in the area around that time. “They simply said, ‘Demolition ho raha hai. Film karna hai toh kar lo’,” he says. “I hope these films can bring their issues to light.”

The M Ward, says Ghosh, is a different world within Mumbai. “Our college peon is a Koli but doesn’t want to take up his traditional profession. He introduced us to his uncle, a fisherman, who told showed us around. The community is struggling to keep its culture alive — at every step, the Koli ‘village’ and a Koli ‘modern city’ are struggling to co-exist.”
The duality, it seems, is true for all of the M Ward.

The films will be screened at the Library Conference Hall, TISS Main Campus, Opp Deonar Bus Depot, Deonar. On May 8, at 5 pm, preceded by tea at 4.30 pm. Entry: Free. For registrations, email Dr Anjali Monterio at 

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