The product of labour
Rahul Jain, whose documentary Machines premiered at 2017 Sundance Film Festival, speaks to CE ahead of the film's Indian premiere at Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival
Rahul Jain’s debut, Machines, possesses a unique visual grammar for a documentary. Jain, more than handholding you around the labyrinthine factory space, takes you on a leash from one part to another, trapping you into a state of physical, aural and psychological claustrophobia, while also painting a clear picture of the happenings inside. The interiors of a textile factory in Sachin (Gujarat), and the lives of the migrant labourers who do shifts of 12+ hours every day, is put under a magnifying glass.
Rahul Jain, an alumnus of the California Institute of The Arts, premiered Machines at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival where it took the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography, for Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva. We spoke to Rahul Jain, who will be in Mumbai this week for Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival, where Machines will have its India premiere.
Is there something specific that drew you to this subject?
As a child, I had the chance to visit many factories with my family, and the forced perspective from a young child’s height, or the lack of it, fascinated me immensely. My curiosities over my whole life about the other side of the spectrum of human life led me to make this film.
You've taken your time with the shots of the factory to bring that immersive, claustrophobic effect. Is that something you and Rodrigo always planned, or did the factory lend itself to it?
The nature of the film lent itself after we spent lots of time without a camera and built an intimate and personal relationship with the environment. In non-fiction, it is futile to impose your own feelings and thoughts on reality. One must figure out how, why and what the space, the subject and the intentions one has or requires. We did find some new perspectives for the look and feel, and the techniques needed to be adapted to those, once we were there.
How did you work on the sound? It is stark and pretty much ambient.
We recorded thousands of sounds, and the meticulous task of finding each frequency, vibration was done by Susmit Bob Nath. The sound was mixed as well with lot of care, with the aim to immerse the audience and get that sensorial effect of the world that the space’s inhabitants go through.
There are no question and answers. It is like the people you spoke to are giving monologues and opening up themselves?
I wanted the perspectives to go straight to the audiences, and for them to judge what they see from their own perspective. So, I systematically removed any presence of the creator of the film.
How was it working with the employees? They seem to have been instructed to ignore the camera?
We just shot for a long time, and got a lot of material. The workers were not given any instructions at all.
There is a quote that is seemingly highlighted - 'poverty is harassment'. What is the central theme that you wanted to talk about? There is migrant labour, liberalisation, class struggles, there are talks of unions and strikes.
Everything and more. What is not said is just as important as what is said.
Is there a reason that this factory or the state of Gujarat was chosen?
Even if unintentional, it jumped out now, in 2017, because of all the paeans to the state pre-2014, our current Prime Minister's state and the economic crisis the country seems to be wallowing in, now.
There are hints from the interviews of how the privileged is prioritised over the poor?
Our current leadership grew on the logic of “look what we did to this state” but it seems all progress is made in this one state, not across the country. The same since Morarji Desai made the GIDCs, opening everything in Gujarat, and inviting compromised and helpless laborers from the unemployed parts of the country. I didn’t meet even one labourer there who was from Gujarat.