Sanderien Verstappen and Mario Rutten document the lives of Gujarati migrants in East London

When sociologist Mario Rutten visited the two Gujarati boys he'd known since they were children in London, he was surprised to find that they lived in a cramped house with 10 other youngsters.

So inspired was he that he joined forces with visual anthropologists and filmmakers Sanderien Verstappen and Isabelle Makay, to film Living Like a Common Man, a documentary on this new middle-class migration, specifically through the story of the Gujarati youngsters who had come to make a better life in East London.

While Dr. Rutten is a professor of Comparative Sociology and Anthropology of Asia at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Amsterdam, Ms. Verstappen's project ‘Making place across borders' also deals with the transnational reverse flows in provincial India. Both have worked in central Gujarat, which is where they found the subjects for their film, and are now working in association with the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.

“During the time I met Darshan and Vishal, the two brothers who were my closest connections in central Gujarat, I was like their uncle,” says Dr. Rutten. “I visited them every year over the last 25 years and after an initial visit to London, the boys and girls in the house agreed to the idea of the film.” Ms. Verstappen and Ms. Makay were then roped into the project. They became close to the group of youngsters, as they visited the house over ten times between 2008 and 2010. “They made place for us to stay in the house even though it was already crowded,” says Ms. Verstappen.

Living Like a Common Man traces the lives of these youngsters. Sohang (25) immigrated to London to work in a plastics manufacturing firm, but is convinced that it is temporary. Through the course of the film, he returns to his hometown in Gujarat, but still thinks of going back because there is just more money in London.

This odd kind of limbo is not just specific to Sohang. There are others like the couple Dhruti and Jignesh who are in London so they can live away from their families. Dhruti's parents think she is studying in London, but she works at Starbucks as she supports Jignesh and herself, while also trying to pay for her future studies. “They are well-educated temporary migrants (often coming on a student visa), from a low-income country, who do “low-status” work in a high-income society. They feel they are going down in terms of social status, having to do manual work they would not consider doing in Gujarat. At the same time they feel they are going up in terms of social status because they have migrated to the west,” says Verstappen.

Living like a Common Man will be screened at the Lecture Hall, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science, on March 29 at 4 p.m.


Dropping InMarch 9, 2011