Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Life (or something like it) in an Indian textiles plant: Rahul Jain's bleak/beautiful MACHINES

Documentaries about the workplace don't come much bleaker-- nor more beautiful in terms of composition, color and artistry -- than MACHINES, the new 71-minute movie from Rahul Jain. This is his debut feature and on which he acted as director, co-editor and -producer, and even helped with the sound. Visually, it's a stunning debut, but it's a good deal more than that. Via visuals and interviews with a number of the workers, the film puts you pretty firmly into their shoes -- if and when they mange to have shoes, that is.

The first thing you may notice in Mr. Jain's doc (the filmmaker is shown at right) is that the initial worker we see manning the ovens has no goggles to protect his eyes form the sparks and flames. This, as it turns out, proves the least of the problems. Because there is no narration/ explanation (other than the visual one), we simply follow along as we see different parts of the factory in which some beautiful textiles are made, along with the workers and their various jobs.

We may have questions -- what's that dark liquid that looks like chocolate in the vat the worker is dragging along behind him via some wide white material? -- but, too bad. Just watch and learn what you can.

Fortunately we see plenty that's educational here. And after awhile, Jain begins allowing the workers to talk to us, telling us about their experience in this factory. In the background, and nearly ever-present, is the noise of the machines, whirring, whirring, whirring.

When the interviews begin, we learn some very interesting things: For instance, one man actually must take a loan out in order to get to work and earn some money at this factory. "Poverty is harassment," notes one fellow. "You can't do anything. There is no cure." Workers travels 36 hours on a train, standing up the entire time, with nothing to eat or drink unless they bring it themselves.

By the time we get to the child labor (though the kids look at least like early or middle teenagers), we're privy to moments such as one child yawning, then briefly falling asleep as he works. We also get a montage of workers sleeping. Then we finally meet or observe the owners (or maybe just their salesmen) talking about fabrics and pricing.

The coup de grâce comes with the interview with a manager/or maybe owner who is so pompous, entitled and nasty that you'll want to put your fist through his ugly face. Unionization? Well, we're told by one person here that "the workers don't unite. There is no unity here." Another explains that when the workers do unite, the bosses then learn who their leader is and have him killed. This has happened over and over again.

The end result -- those textiles -- are certainly beautiful, but at what price? As one worker explains it: "I know from my room to here, and from here back to my room. Neither do I know who the boss is nor how he looks." This may bring to mind that wonderful James Taylor song, Millworker, from the splendid but sadly unsuccessful Broadway musical, Working:
"May I work this mill for as long as I am able, and never meet the man whose name is on the label."

Finally, Mr. Jain does something both bracing and brave, as the workers confront him and his crew to tell him, "People just come here, look at our problems, and leave. Nobody takes any action." And then the fellow looks at the filmmaker and asks, "What will you do?" I would sure as hell like to think that this film might make some difference. But as one of those interviewed caps it off: "My only satisfaction is that everyone dies. Even the rich take nothing with them." Yeah -- but if India is anything like America, they leave it all to their kids.

From Kino Lorber, in English and Hindi with English subtitles, Machines has its U.S. theatrical premiere in New York City at Film Forum tomorrow, Wednesday, August 9, for a one-week run. Elsewhere? Nothing, it seems, has been booked as yet (click here and scroll down to keep current on this). But let's hope for a wider audience soon, as this documentary deserves to be seen and will pay off time spent in major dividends.

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