Machines review: Hypnotic documentary on the lives of the helpless

Release Date: 14 Oct 2017 / 01hr 15min

Cinestaan Rating

  • Direction:

Shriram Iyengar

Rahul Jain's acclaimed docu-drama focuses on the lives of textile workers living in inhuman conditions.

There was a moment in the Q&A session after the film's screening at the 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival when director Rahul Jain shied away from mentioning the location of the textile factories in Gujarat where his film was shot. It is evidence of the fear and oppression in which people live today. The film is an insight into those very lives.

Titled quite appropriately, Machines began as a school project for Jain before it evolved into something much more. The documentary tracks the life of a garment at a textile factory in Gujarat, and in parallel peeks into the lives of those involved in making it.

The film won an award for its cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and deservedly so. The opening visuals tracking the hypnotic rhythm of the machines waking up early in the morning is compelling. In addition to the visuals, the sounds of the machines make it even more impactful.

Jain captures the lives of workers (without naming any) from 8am, when they sign in at the factory gates, till their eventual departure at 8pm. The director portrays them as human beings of great skill when at their machines, but lifeless without them. Their lives revolve around and are dominated by the machines that they are supposed to control.

The film also tells a story of exploitation and oppression that has been almost normalized. Speaking later, the director explained the absence of any unions for the workers. According to him, the dominant narrative of 'unions are bad for factories' hinders any united resistance. "None of them, if you see, is opposing their bosses," he said.

In fact, some of them have never even seen their bosses. As the film delves into the relationship between the management and the workers, there appears a vast chasm. While the management speaks of keeping the workers 'hungry' and 'poor' as it drives them to work more sincerely, the workers speak of 'majboori' (necessity) and not even knowing the bosses' face. This is the defining element of the film.

While it is understandable that Jain wanted to create empathy for the workers, he does not shy away from raising questions on himself, too. In a scene, the workers gather around him and ask, "Tell us what you want to do with this story. Give us a solution. Don't just take our story and go away like everyone else." Jain admits he had no answer.

For a country whose prime minister calls for 'Make in India' and building a superpower by 2020 (now postponed by five years), these scenes are a reminder of the truth that exists far below the marble palaces of its rich and powerful. As Sahir Ludhianvi said, 'Zara mulk ke rehbaron ko bulaao / Ye kooche, ye galiyan, ye manzar dikhao' (Bring forth those masters of the country/Show them these corners, these streets, these scenes).

To fulfil the poet's appeal, Machines will need to be screened in many more places.

Machines was screened at the 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 14 October 2017.