Having worked for a few years in the very area where Malls and Office complexes came up on the erstwhile Mill lands I could relate well with the movie.
The movie deals with a grim reality and the director gets the tone right by skipping the ‘song and dance’ routine. Things are troubled because of the ongoing strike by the mill workers and it acts as a destructive force impacting the fragile lives. We get to know the numbers as well – close to 300,000 workers supporting about 1 million people lost their livelihood and homes. The young were particularly vulnerable as they lost the opportunity to complete their education and pursue the only profession they had known by joining a mill.
The story focusses on the trials and tribulations of a traditional Mill worker family headed by Anna who has now retired and looks forward to receiving his ‘Gratuity’ to settle the lives of his children – 3 sons (Baba an aspiring playwright, Mohan an ardent cricket fan and Naru an aggressive youth with a short temper) and 1 daughter (Manju who works in a beauty parlour and aspires for a better life).
Seema Biswas essays the role of the struggling matriarch who frets about the future of her children. Typical of a life in a chawl the lives of the neighbours is intertwined with the family and we get to know about the friendly ‘Mama-Mami’ couple who are childless, Naru’s gang of friends who roam the streets with him and are seen to have jam sessions playing Carrom.
A system left in a spiral quickly hurtles to anarchy and like a ‘broken window’ syndrome everything goes wrong for the family. Mohan falls prey to a cricket betting racket and loses his job. His elder brother sells a kidney to bail him out of the police case. Naru vents his frustration by becoming a ‘hit man’ for a local don and inevitably gets sucked into the life of crime and retribution (shades of Vaastav) . Manju falls for a boy next door and the family feels humiliated on learning about her affair. Everything seems to unravel even in the wider society – people are shown to be petty and violent as they have no money, an unfortunate couple commits suicide and the younger lot take to petty crime as they see no hope for themselves.
The director pulls no punches in display of violence and we also have several hard-hitting emotional scenes : Manju being confronted by Aai regarding her affair, Mohan being beaten by Aai for committing a fraud, Manju expressing her virulent distaste for the life of a mill-worker’s wife to her ‘mill worker’ husband on their wedding night.
The story is narrated in a flashback mode and we are suddenly shown that Baba has become a successful playwright and he now plans to buy a flat in the very tony building that has come up in the area. In the meanwhile his extended family and friends continue to linger on in their former chawl. This narrative has a discordant ring to it and could have best been avoided.
But the movie does deliver its message while conveying the tragedy that hit an entire generation of people due to the greed shown by the key players that went unchallenged by the existing system and society. Change and the Schumpeterian process of creative destruction is an inevitable reality that demands painful readjustment – it would have been humanized had we bothered to take care of the people whose ecosystem was viciously demolished by the winds of change even before India ushered in Liberalization.