Aerial View of Mumbai:  Courtesy of Flickr User Cactus Bones; Licensed via Creative Commons

Aerial View of Mumbai Courtesy of Flickr User Cactus Bones; Licensed via Creative Commons

Recently, I was shocked to read this article which describes  "Shanty Town"  a unique vacation destination which has been created where the rich can experience what it feels like to be in slum by paying about 82 dollars a night.(http://gizmodo.com/a-fake-slum-for-luxury-tourists-who-dont-want-to-see-r-1471187465)

If you scroll down on this article  there are several people who do not see anything wrong with this. But really, have we truly run out of ideas for recreation? Do we have to make a mockery out of the lives of the destitute? 

If people really wish to experience slums there is no dearth  of places all over the world where several volunteers, artists, writers and filmmakers decide to spend time to get a real glimpse of these ghettoes, favelas, jhuggis etc.Guillermo is one such film maker who documented the struggle of the urban poor in Mumbai. In this  video

he interviews experts and spends numerous days with the slum dwellers to get into the depths of the day to day plight of the residents. 

Here is an excerpt of a recent conversation with him where he shared his experiences and insights.

1. What was your inspiration for 'Zindabad!' ?

 From 2007 to 2010, I was directing a narrative film about a lost alien in India (http://www.baba-film.es/index_en.html). We wanted to bring this alien to one of Bombay's slums for very particular reasons, but when we began to study the issue we realized that the film was too poetic, and the slums and its people deserved a more real analysis of their situation. So we decided to develop a parallel project along with our narrative film, which was "Zindabad!" .  We decided to create a more traditional and political documentary about the distribution of land in Bombay (not only about the slums, because "slums are mainly a symptom of inequality", as one of our characters says in the film).
So the inspiration to make Zindabad! was the profound injustice that we felt from the very first moment when we started to understand the issue of slums in Bombay. It was the energy from this injustice and the anger that it produced in us,  that we decided to make this project. Then, we started developing friendly and professional relationships with many slum dwellers, and this energy turned into admiration instead of anger. The energy was fueled by the incredible dignity that these people had in their way of living.

 2. Could you share with us the most remarkable incident or experience while  filming Zindabad?

There were so many experiences that I can hardly mention one. In general, one of the things that impressed us the most (we were a crew of two young European filmmakers), is how different  this world  was from ours, but how easy it was to build relationships with the slum dwellers. Although we were never able to be thought of as one of them (for many reasons, not just because of the colour of our skin), we were so impressed to see how happy and proud they felt when we wanted to have no privileges, as we wanted to eat and live like them. It was sad how surprised they were to see our attitude, as it was something they had not witnessed before.  For them this was a beautiful moment, because of the equality the situation implied, and this is something which  was very new for them, and for us too. These moments will remain in our memory for ever.
 But there were also more confusing moments, and very sad ones, of course. A slum was a very foreign environment for us, not only economically, also morally: for example, we would know that a man was beating his wife at their home, and no one would allow us to ask him not to do it (and we wonder if that would have helped at all). At another time, I watched how the police and the mafia burnt part of the slum were we worked, and many people were left with nothing at all. An old woman decided to let herself die because she had no means to start building a new house, and no family to help her. People get used to see very hard situations in these conditions, and they cannot help everyone in need. Getting used to the fact that life goes on, that it has to go on, was extremely difficult for us.


3. From the perspective of someone who lived in the midst of the slum dwellers and yet belonged to a different background, were there any solutions to some of the problems that came to your mind as immediate & obvious choices?

We were happy just understanding them, but we knew that to live with them at every level, we should put away the cameras (and our jobs) and live there for years. We met people who had decided to do that, and we admired this a lot , since it is a very deep compromise with their situation. We couldn't do this. We took one month before we started filming, in order to better understand everything, but we didn't have the opportunity to really live like them.

And no, we never came across immediate or obvious solutions, apart from the fact that slum dwellers are an impressive majority of Bombay's population, and that if they would get united for a moment, they would attain their goals in a day. But again, this is the way the world works. Also in the global level there are so many poor people that have the same interests, but like in Bombay's case, the system is efficient enough to divide them and to keep them ignorant of their power.

4. If you were to go back and shoot this film, would you do it in a different way today?

Yes, of course. I directed that film in 2009 and 2010, and almost 5 years later I think differently, especially at a film level. I haven't changed much view of  how the system treats the slums dwellers of Bombay, although I had much more information when I was working in the film than now that I am working in other issues. However, I feel very happy about the film and how it was made, in terms of the relationships  we formed with the slum dwellers. It was indeed one of the most beautiful experiences we ever had, not only as filmmakers, but as human beings.

5. Do you think films such as yours could play an active role in influencing attitudes if common people towards the slum dwellers?

I am not sure; this is a very complex issue. Film art or film as a medium was never made to change people's attitude. As a medium of expression, it can be very useful, but almost never enough. I can hardly think of any film that really changed a situation, even less nowadays when so many films are made about so many issues, and when a huge part of the global political and economic system has learnt to deal with the freedom of expression, just because it has become strong enough to remain intact, no matter what the citizens say or think.
From our part, it was a very simple way of thinking. We thought that we had to do that film, to deliver that message, no matter what the consequences were. We thought -and we think- that it was the right thing to do, even though the situation of the slums was not going to change. We just did what we thought was fair, knowing that the public would be more or less sympathetic to the slum dwellers, but that this fact would never be enough to really help them. If the film had helped anyone to better understand the injustice of the land system of Bombay, this will be enough for us, but not for the slum dwellers.

I don't really know what to think of these things, it's very interesting that people participate in this kind of activities. For some reason they forget that life in the slum is not only about the lack of comfort. It's much more about the people who live there and their culture. And well, I don't care at all that a bunch of confused tourists decide to live in a hut for a couple of days, if they are happy with that. I've seen tourist guides into the main slums of Bombay, and of course one wonders if this is right or not, if this is obscene or not, but well, I have never been too concerned about these things, to be honest.

6. What is your opinion about slum tourism?

 I don't really know what to think of these things, it is very interesting that people participate in this kind of activities. For some reason they forget that life in the slum is not only about the lack of comfort. It is much more about the people who live there and their culture. And well, I don't care at all that a bunch of confused tourists who decide to live in a hut for a couple of days, if they are happy with that. I've seen tourist guides into the main slums of Bombay, and of course one wonders if this is right or not, if this is obscene or not, but well, I have never been too concerned about these things, to be honest.

Perhaps efforts such as Zindabad! could make people really understand the reality of slums. Guillermo's work is truly commendable in this regard. Of course, it would be unreasonable to expect  everyone  to give up worldly comforts to live in slums and squatter settlements in order to get an insight into the lives of people there. The least we could do is to refrain from recreating such 'shanty towns' for the sake of some unique vacation memories.

 

What do you think? We would look forward to  know your thoughts.

 - Brinda

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