Susannah Heath-Eves. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Susannah Heath-Eves’s documentary on Mumbai, Jugaad, opens with a top shot of Mumbaikars packed like sardines, trying to get a glimpse of Lord Ganpati at Lalbaug. “It’s just so many people jostling to get by, pushing their way through, not giving up,” says Heath-Eves. “They are not letting the wave carry them away, they fight against it.”
No wonder her documentary is called Jugaad, a word that’s synonymous in the city for getting one’s work done by hook or by crook. “For example, I went to Mumbra to see what happens after a building collapses, and though the authorities were there, it was the community that actually got the rescue work under way. It was enlightening,” says the 37-year-old Canadian filmmaker, who first came to India in 2010 to try and make a movie on the city’s cab drivers. But her focus soon shifted to the rest of the city and she decided she would tell the story of the many in the city who, by managed to get by just not giving up. Jugaad features Rajesh Prabhakar (a fixer in Dharavi), Malini Agarwal (of missmalini.com), Gregory David Roberts (author of Shantaram), Sameer (a taxi print maker), Gauri (transgender activist), among many others, who according to Heath-Eves give the viewer a glimpse into the lives and loves of the ordinary Mumbaikar.
Heath-Eves can’t explain her fascination for Mumbai, except that ever since she came here in 2010, she hasn’t been able to not want to tell its story. “So many people, who don’t get it, ask me ‘why this city?’, and I always say you have to see it to understand.” She was first introduced to the idea of Mumbai by a small newspaper snippet about the Mumbai cabs in her local newspaper, back home in Montreal.
“When I got here, it was so different from the quiet Canadian streets I grew up in. But I loved it.”
The stories that she tells in the 75-minute-long documentary, that has been funded through a arts grant by the Canada Council for the Arts and the CTV development fund, are heartwarming. We particularly loved a sequence of a bunch of young boys who are asked the question what they want to be when they grow up. Their answers may be the stereotypical engineer and doctors, but their reasons aren’t. One says, “I want to be a doctor so I can start a hospital with free treatment for poor people.”
Stills from Jugaad
Another quips, “Then how will you make money?” This one is in turn ragged by another who says, “But you want to be an engineer! So even you will pull down our homes to make tall buildings?” There is also the story of a taxi driver, who wants to leave Mumbai, as his wife has left him because she just can’t deal with the city. The section that shows transgender activist Gauri showing her chelas (students) how to use a condom is inspiring, too.
Other bits follow the story of a fixer in Dharavi who stands on the roof of an SRA building listening to the aarti and the azaan at the same time, and comments, “This is peace” referring to the riots he has seen.
By not using a narrative voice, what Heath-Eves does successfully is make her version of Mumbai a non-judgmental one. Yes, it shows the slums, the filth, and the hardships an ordinary, middle-class Mumbaikar goes through just to get from one day to another, but it still celebrates the spirit with gusto. “Jugaad is the perfect way of describing the spirit of the city. It’s all about the different human experiences you find in such a dense population that is living together in such a constricted, tight space.”
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