Gyan Prakash on Gaman (Muzaffar Ali, 1978) in Mumbai Fables (2010):

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But are the experience and meaning of home in an immigrant city like Mumbai reducible to owning a dwelling? Feeling at home in the impersonal metropolis is always a challenge. This is even more so for immigrants in Mumbai. Because of their precarious livelihood in the city, they have traditionally maintained ties with their native places. Mumbai is just a mahanagari, a metropolis that poor immigrants endure to earn a living. They may live two or three generations in slums, but home is still the village or the small town they came from. Belonging is a complex emotion for those who struggle to survive amid daily injustices.

Muzaffar Ali’s 1978 Hindi film Gaman (Departure) offers a haunting perspective on the meaning of home for immigrant taxi drivers in Mumbai. We see the city from the point of view of Ghulam, a Muslim who leaves his North Indian village after the family is cheated out of its land by the landlord. Leaving behind his ailing mother and wife, he lands at the door of Lallu, a taxi driver, who is his friend from the village. Lallu warmly welcomes Ghulam, offers him some space in his shack, and then takes him on a ride to the city’s tourist attractions. Much like Neel and Bhola, they go to the Gateway, the Taj, and other sights. When Ghulam expresses his awe at Bombay’s grandeur, his friend remarks that it is grand outside but rotten inside. We are warned that things are not what they seem in the city. Sure enough, when the suburban train suddenly stops because someone has died under the tracks, a passenger remarks: “Why did he die under the train? The delay is costing me money! Just drag the carcass out. Why waste time?” When Ghulam expresses shock at this indifference, his friend says: “Give it time, you will also become indifferent.”

Ghulam does not become indifferent, but we see an impersonal city emerge through his eyes. Taxi drivers eke out a miserable living and suffer humiliations inflicted by haughty passengers and heavy-handed policemen. Lallu’s girlfriend’s old father, who drove a taxi for thirty years, is now addicted to gasoline fumes. Shots of Marine Drive and Cuffe Parade seen through the taxi window are contrasted with the squalid shantytown in which the cab drivers live. But unlike the superficial and uncaring milieu of the rich, depicted through the conversations of passengers, there is humanity and solidarity in the world of taxi drivers.

The merciless metropolis, the relentless routine of work, and the loneliness of separation from his wife have changed Ghulam.


Courtesy- Dhrupad on tumblr

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Celebrating Cinema

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