In Mumbai (Bombay), a city of 15 million people, 7 million commuters travel by train to work in a daily nightmare where the difference between first-class and second-class seats no longer means anything, as people are jammed like sardines into the train coaches.
Actually, it is considered lucky to be able to get inside the train coach at all. Many people hold on to the edge of the trains at the doors. Others ride on the roof of the trains.
Fifteen people a day, or around 4,000 a year, are killed from falling off speeding trains, being run over on the tracks, or being electrocuted by high-tension wires.
With poetic visual presentation and sound editing, director Vinayan Kodoth makes a record of the horrifying everyday trip for Mumbai's commuters in his documentary Journey, which screens today at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival. It is perhaps the first film from India presenting a deep reflection on this everyday drama.
"I want to present the degradation of human beings. People are powerless facing the situation. They just take it for granted," Kodoth said.
Kodoth previously lived in Mumbai, and sometimes joined the crowds taking the train to work. "You don't realize what you are doing. It's said that once you get into a train station, you become a different person. They only thing you have on your mind is to get on the train," Kodoth said in an interview in Taipei. His film has been selected in the Asian Vision of the competition category at the festival.
"The traffic operators in the city have lost control of the situation. And the people, like cogs in a machine, just have to accept it, and get used to it," Kodoth said.
Directed by Vinayan Kodoth
Running time: 38 minutes
Screening times and location:
tonight, 8:30pm at SPOT - Taipei Film House
The trains and the peculiar environment in Mumbai have, indeed, transformed people's character and human relations. "It is this change that I find it traumatic. And it was the main reason I left the city," Kodoth said.
When returning to Mumbai to shoot the film, Kodoth chose to look at the situation with a non-traditional documentary approach. There is no first-person accounts, no interviews or commentaries in the film. The film does not try to find reasons or answers, nor does it try to find out who is to blame for the chronic problem of urban planning in Mumbai.
Instead, there are abundant visuals of the commuters and train rides. Inside the train, there are pictures of hands holding on to the handles, a man's sweating forehead and people's backs and chests forced closely together.
The commuters are all silent and impassive, showing few facial expressions, just quietly and swiftly rushing into the trains, or climbing up to the roof. And when the train arrives at a stop, people quickly jump off. The only noise in the film comes when a commuter falls onto the camera while rushing into the train.
"He was rushing too fast and did not see us and the camera," Kodoth said.
The passenger almost fell off the train and was pulled back in and actually fell on the camera again, Kodoth said.
"I'd like to focus on the human condition in this situation and hope people can reflect on it. This is why I took a distant look at the situation," he said.
"There have been news reports about the situation, but people read and forget about it," Kodoth said.
The director's detached attitude in the film gives an even stronger impression of the situation, clearly a reason why he was won awards at five international documentary festivals in the past year and seems a strong contender to win another at the current festival.