IDSFFK: Niraj Menon’s documentary film ‘Dastoor’ zooms in on the lives on the streets

A still from the documentary Dastoor   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


For a documentary film focussing mostly on people forced to live on the streets, one of the most fascinating sequences in Niraj Menon’s Dastoor (Ritual) is an exchange between two women on the most comfortable locations to sleep at night.

One tells the other that her family is sleeping in the upper area that night as it is more windy there. It almost sounds as if they enjoy the freedom of sleeping out in the open, with the variety of choices of places to choose from, though that is far from the truth.

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The documentary, screened in the Long Documentary Competition category at the 13th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK), was shot around the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, focusing on the day-to-day lives of people living in and around Thane railway station in Mumbai.

Government apathy

Most of those whom the makers train their lens on are forthcoming about their situation, with some of them resigned to the fact of not having a better life for themselves and dreaming of their children receiving an education to escape the streets, while others display an awareness of how the governments do not care about them, while meeting the demands of the vocal middle class and the corporates.

The focus of the documentary is not just on the people living there, but also the ones who use the station. In one long sequence, a woman, who says that she is a retired teacher, talks about how they are a “nuisance” and speaks proudly of her efforts to get the policemen to drive them away.

“Would that solve the problem?,” the director asks her. From her class perspective and life experiences, the people on the streets are the problem, not the economic structures that forced them to live there.

Root cause

However, at the same time, there are others who understand the root cause. One of those men on the streets explains succinctly the story of how he, a farmer, was forced to come to the city in search of a job after his crops failed.

As academic and social critic Sunil P. Elayidom says in the film, there won’t be a drastic change in the lives of the poor in the country, unless poverty is framed and understood as a human rights issue.

The documentary does manage to push the viewer to think as to the lack of focussed interventions on the part of governments.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 11:14:07 AM |

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