A new documentary on India’s sweatshops is horrifying, says ALAN FRANK
Directed by Rahul Jain
GIVEN the overabundance of cinema festivals held annually around the world, a cynic might believe that if a film is trailed from one to the other, then it should eventually make good by winning an award.
That’s most certainly not the case with Machines.
Director Rahul Jain’s extraordinary debut documentary about workers in a gigantic textile factory in Gujarat, India, deserves every award it has received, and there’ve already been a few.
Made as a mid-term project at the California Institute of Arts, and impressively filmed in atmospheric wide screen by Jain and Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva, it takes the viewer into the contemporary slave labour-style fabric factory hell of the enormous sweatshop.
Completed product is glimpsed in a chilling sequence where buyers haggle over the price of the cheaply produced goods, only to be smugly informed that the fabric is better than that from Korea.
The working conditions of the luckless men and children sweating their lives out for minimal pay in this 21st-century version of dark satanic mills can mean, as one employee tells us, slaving for 36 to 48 hours non-stop.
They wash themselves in steam escaping from machines and wear plastic bags to protect them from the tropical rain.
Jain’s superb film-making relies as much on picture-perfect images as on clever editing to create a claustrophobic-feeling Hades where an employee claims that nobody is exploiting him and he needs the work to raise kids.
Another points out that he cannot afford cigarettes and has to chew tobacco as a relief from the work and a child states: “You have to work 12 hours, no matter what.”
Managers are nowhere to be seen until a smug boss informs us that the appalling system continues because “Indians can be motivated only in terms of salary” and then comments that if the workers were to unite, then management would give in.
But there is no sense of unity, only a desperate desire for survival.