Picturing the plight of people
Dhivya Jessy, a Chennai-based filmmaker, presents these parallels between progress and poverty, through her latest documentary ‘Nagarodi’.
On one side, we see the walls of buildings splashed with vibrant colours, on the other side, there are people living inside those buildings, stripped out of colours from their lives. On the cover, there is Singara Chennai 2.0, the beautification project that shows the city's metamorphosis and development, on the inside, there are the lives of almost 55000 families who have been stuck and confused since their forced eviction a decade ago.
Dhivya Jessy, a Chennai-based filmmaker, presents these parallels between progress and poverty, through her latest documentary ‘Nagarodi’. Long queues to collect drinking water that only comes once a week, the broken sewage lines spilling wastewater, the cramped rooms that fit almost 6-7 members of the family — all these frames raise questions about the broken promises given to the people of Kannagi Nagar, Chemmenchery and Perumbakkam. At the screening of Nagarodi recently at Neelam Books, Egmore, the audience was subjected to witnessing the people’s plight from the banks of the Cooum river.
The documentary began with Dr BR Ambedkar’s reference to two Indias — touchable and untouchable India. In 2010, when the people were forced to evacuate the slums near the Cooum river, little did they know that they would be stripped out of their livelihoods too. The shift to different places almost 40 km away from the main city was just the beginning of all the hardships. “When I was working on the film ‘Witness,’ I got to know about the plight of the people in Chemmenchery, Perumbakkam, etc. I am from Kanchipuram and not from Chennai. So, after understanding more and researching for about three months, with the support of director Pa Ranjith and Neelam Productions, we made this film,” shared Jessy.
Explaining that the process of shooting itself was painful and agitating as there were no immediate solutions to the problems, the filmmaker expressed the need to support the people. She said, “There are no proper facilities like drinking water, or hospitals. Even if you call 108 due to some emergency, the ambulance won’t reach the place. Walking through the narrow streets into the houses is difficult. There are a lot of kids but only two schools are present in the area — one till class 5 and the other till class 10. Child marriages happen and young girls are forced to start a family at 14 or 15 because they are rarely left with any other option.” Emphasising that evictions like these end up creating the stereotypes that exist in villages again in cities and curb developments, job opportunities, and so on, journalist and writer Jeyarani, after the screening said, “The concept of two Indias will not be destroyed if it continues.”
A fight for basic rights
Singhara Chennai, Yaarukaaka Yaarukaka? (For whom is Singhara Chennai?), asked Rapper Immam Vijay. As a prelude to explaining the context of the documentary, a rap performance by the artiste himself urged the audience to sing along with him, “Singara Chennai 2.0, Chennaivasiye annuppittinge, outside po (You have sent the natives outside of their own city), Smart City 2.0, Pala Kanave Azhuchitinga( You have killed many dreams), Do you Know?” After the performance, he spoke, “We have been fighting for land and haven't received help from any political party so far. For our people, land is an important thing. The land is the first step of progress.”
A panel discussion with writers and filmmakers that followed the screening ventured into the intricacies of the issue. Applauding the craft of Jessy, Writer Tamil Prabha, “Usually a documentary structure is such that it will be a mix of people’s voices, politician’s opinions and activist’s point of view. But here in ‘Nagarodi,’ Jessy chose to focus on people’s voices alone. Explaining that we have to focus on the people’s issues by focusing on the nuances, he said, “If one is stripped out of their own land, their body language itself changes. They wouldn’t have any resistance.” People are being evicted because it was being said that they were settled near river banks, commented Filmmaker SY Gowthama Raj. He added, “But, the same situation is not happening in areas like Velachery, Tambaram or Mudichor. Why are Dalits being discriminated against?”
Filmmaker Ravikumar Rajendran opined that they (the authorities) have not only taken the people 40 km farther but 40 years away.” Telling that the structure itself has to change, district secretary CPIM, G Selva said, “The middle-class people are running after things day by day. Whether it's going to Phoenix Mall, watching movies, eating organically farmed food, or ordering things online, we have become a generation that has been confined to our smartphones and not interacting with each other. We should make noise for our people — ‘Ith en makkal, en nilai, en orimai solli namma kekanam’ (We should question by asking that this is my people, my situation and my rights.)”