Rahul Jain’s debut documentary film “Machines” is a disturbing examination of the lives of workers in a textile factory in Gujarat, a close look at the lives of those who are left with no choice but to settle for abysmally low wages and soul-crushing work hours.
The camera shoots young boys and men taking part in different processes which eventually will end up in the creation of fine textile products such as dupattas to be sold at an expensive rate all over the world. One young man uses an iron rod to play a game with the coals inside the furnace, using all the energy he can afford, while another one drags a bucket containing what seems like paint and one has the responsibility of using his hands to take out the textiles from a spinning machine while his face is covered with a piece of cloth.
The success of the film lies in how it shows movement. The labourers move and so do the gigantic machines responsible for their alienation.
There are snippets of interviews with the workers who talk about their lives and what they think about work. A worker interviewed says, “God gave us hands, so we have to work. Everybody works 12 hours.”
A man who presumably is their boss, makes his presence felt, convincing you that power is not only corrupt but also has an insatiable appetite for sadism. Referring to the workers, he says, “Earlier his stomach used to be empty. So he was worried about the company as about his stomach. Now his stomach is filled, he also gets extra money. Now he thinks the company should fuck off. He’s least bothered.” He wants rats to play inside the worker’s stomach so that he continues to be in a state of desperation to finish his work. Such insensitivity shows that the rich will never be the reason for working class salvation.
The absence of a background score and a voice-over adds to the film’s strength. By taking this approach the film leaves mediocrity and fluff far behind, showing us why reality is always scarier than fiction. The sounds of the machines operating throughout the film are characters in themselves, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
The tragedy of the workers lies in the fact that their exploitation is invisible. One migrant worker speaking in the film even refuses to categorise what he does as a consequence of exploitation since he believes he is doing everything of his own free will. Modern-day capitalism has slyly devised ways of profiting even without letting the workers know they are being exploited.
In an interview with Variety, director Rahul Jain says that through his documentary“Machines” he was trying to show how the vast gap between the haves and the have-nots is actually way more than what is visible. He succeeds.
The poverty in the film doesn’t lie in the dirt and the squalor of the slums, it is amidst the intimidating sounds, the toxic chemicals and the colourful dyes. It is visible everywhere. When a young boy is on the verge of dozing off while operating a machine, to when a worker snores while sleeping on the device he will start operating again tomorrow – you see that this is when labour is at its most vulnerable.
They work 12 hours a day and are paid less than ₹10,000 a month, irrespective of their age or experience, but their will to live and love for their family keeps them going.
A boy talks about how every time he looks at the gate of the factory, he wishes could turn back and never come again. Another old man talks about how chewing tobacco is the only vice which the factory workers can afford.
Through the interviews, it also becomes easy to understand why despite the harsh conditions, the workers continue to go on, why a working-class revolution has not yet taken place. Even a day of strike or protest puts the daily wage at risk, something the labourer in a poor country like India hasn’t been able to afford yet. The labourer and his family may have to pay the price for a social revolution which may eventually fall flat on its face.
The mood “Machines” creates is pessimistic, gloomy and brutal. It reminds you that the power of the camera is such that it can make your naked eye see things that it otherwise misses out on.
The film will make you realise that it doesn’t matter how hard your job may be, you at least have the option of getting out. Being fortunate enough to be from a stratum of society where people don’t need to look for a job thinking of hunger, I realised that whatever complaints that I have regarding work are a royalty to the ones shown in “Machines”.
This is part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the Dharamshala International Film Festival 2017.