In search of shelter

December 20, 2015 12:00 am | Updated March 24, 2016 11:00 am IST

A student film festival examines the struggle for space as the first step towards understanding the issue of community and human rights

What does it mean to have a roof of one’s own in Mumbai? Can it be reduced to the market driven conversation of investments and skyrocketing realty prices? What does it mean, for instance, to the millions who are excluded daily from this narrative — to an Adivasi who lives in the city’s surrounding forests, to a person who lives in a chawl right near a glitzy high rise or to a transgendered person who is simply looking for a place to belong?

In a city characterised by an unremitting struggle for space, exploring issues of housing and shelter requires a story to be told through contrasting narratives. That is the theme being explored in a film series titled, A Roof of One’s Own ( Ek Chhat ki Talaash Mein ) that will feature at the Cut.In Students Film Festival, which will be held at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) on December 22. Produced and directed by second year students of the institute’s Media and Cultural Studies programme, each of the five films explores these themes through communities living in different parts of Mumbai.

“Housing as a theme is something that’s very inclusive but it can also be used to explore themes such as exclusion or ghettoisation,” explains KP Jayasankar, Dean of the School of Media and Cultural Studies at TISS and one of the commissioning editors for the film series. “For students in the department, exploring the question of housing is also a good entry point to community-based work and rights-based work. There are different sub-themes that talk to each other,” he adds.

Each film is a combination of Hindi and Marathi with subtitles, with a maximum running time of about 25 minutes, and each is a compelling study. In Sand Castles or Raeton ka Mahal , the filmmakers look at homelessness in Mumbai through the eyes of people living in shanties on Girgaum Chowpatty, simultaneously exploring issues of dignity, self-respect and stereotypes about the poor. When one of the people living there is finally able to find a house, the questions surrounding the concept of home take a different turn, forcing her to ask if a ‘home’ is the same as a house.

Similarly, the film Vaastvya looks at Siddharth Nagar in Thane (East), a recently developed area with its juxtaposition of shiny towers, functional buildings constructed under the Slum Rehabilitation Development and one of the last jhopadpattis (informal housing settlements). These lives exist as if they were oblivious to each other and yet, the film finds they are connected in ways they are unaware of.

In Kiska Jungle, Kiska Mangal? , the story of Mumbai’s development toward the suburbs is explored through the experience of the Adivasi hamlets in the forests of Aarey Milk Colony. The film looks at how these hamlets are being encroached upon by government development projects and private real estate companies. It also examines how the Adivasis of Aarey struggle to maintain their relationship with the forest.

Displacement is also the theme that informs Chakwa or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying about the Slum , which is an attempt to present the living realities of people who are stuck in three slums of Mumbai: Shramjeevi Nagar, a legal slum, where people are waiting to be rehabilitated; Lallubhai Compound where people have been rehabilitated; and Transit Camp, which is a place in between the slum and the rehabilitated building. The film is presented with an important rider about the difficulty of portraying lives that the filmmakers can never fully understand: “This is a film about people who are consigned to be poor made by people who are privileged enough to be allowed to make films on them,” it says.

The final film, Where the Blue Lotus Blooms ... is an attempt to look at a home as not merely a physical space, but a space of belonging, acceptance and dignity. The film focuses on four transgender people — Joanna, Pradipta, Sree and Urmi, who are from various social and physical spaces in Mumbai, and follows them as they speak to each other about how they negotiate the space they call home.

For students making these films, the project is a way to connect real communities with a long running discourse on the space crunch in Mumbai and the constant migration of people in and out. “Often, people are only aware of such issues as they exist within their own areas or localities.

This project is important because people should know about the condition of other communities and what we can learn from these stories,” says Saurabh Kumar, one of the student directors ( Where the Blue Lotus Blooms ).

Students of the Media and Cultural Studies programme at TISS first started making films based around themes about six years ago. The films are a starting point for a larger web resource on the subject, supplemented by articles and research. Previous themes include “the 1992 bombings” and “the question of caste in everyday life”.

“The themes that we chose earlier, all dealt with a form of erasure — something that is forgotten or swept under the carpet. Housing is not exactly a point of erasure but in the conversation about real estate and investment, we can often forget that it also a question of livelihood and survival,” says documentary film-maker Anjali Monteiro, professor at the School of Media and Cultural Studies, who is also a commissioning editor for the project.

See the Cut.In Students Film Festival on Facebook for further details.

Housing as a theme is something that’s very inclusive but it can also be used to explore exclusion

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.