Documentary | Quarter Number 4/11
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In 1993, a year before then West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu announced a new industrial policy aimed at increasing investment in the state, Jay Engineering Works declared itself incapable of doing business. The company, which produces sewing machines and fans under the brand name Usha, downed the shutters of its factory in south Kolkata and in 2003, sold the land to the South City Projects (Kolkata) Ltd. The project consisted of a complex of high-rises and shopping malls not unlike Mumbai’s Lower Parel neighbourhood. Workers were laid off and asked to leave their residential quarters, but a few held out.
Ranu Ghosh’s documentary Quarter Number 4/11, which is being screened in Mumbai today before it travels to the Göteborg International Film Festival in Sweden in January, follows the case study of one of these workers, Shambhu Prasad Singh, who files a case against the company and refuses to leave the modest home he has made for himself.
Even as Ghosh brings us closer and closer to Shambhu’s story, she keeps an eye out for the constantly changing backdrop to his mounting woes. “I was interested in exploring how new industries are replacing the old,” she says. Ghosh, who is also a cinematographer, deftly moves between structure and occupant, between the little guy and the concrete behemoth. In the 66-minute film, shot from 2004-10, she vividly captures the shift in the urban landscape from industrial to post-industrial aspirations.
She had previously explored some of her concerns over the gentrification of an industrial neighbourhood and its impact on workers in an installation titled Politics of Closure, and there is the element of an art project in the lensing of the ongoing construction work. “The (Jay Engineering Works) project was interesting because the land was changing,” says Ghosh. “There was a shed and then there was nothing. I initially felt I could make an audiovisual installation on how the land was changing and I shot accordingly.”
In 2006, Ghosh met Shambhu, and felt that his journey could be a film. His inclusion in Quarter Number 4/11 helps humanize an all-too-familiar tale of retrenchment. The protests in 2007 against an upcoming special economic zone in Nandigram (it was eventually scrapped) lent currency to Ghosh’s project. “West Bengal was passing through a very important time and a period of transition,” says Ghosh, who is working on a handful of other documentaries, including co-directing with Arijit Banerjee a film titled Indian Democracy . She experimented with a couple of narrative structures, and eventually settled for one that begins and ends with Shambhu’s plight. “You need to be careful when dealing with social issues,” she observes. “I have to project my own responsibilities in a proper way.”
Quarter Number 4/11 is being screened by the Vikalp documentary group on 17 December at 6.30pm at the Alliance Française, Churchgate, Mumbai. The screening is free and open to all. For details, visit Bombay.afindia.org/tag/vikalp