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It is 1986. Mukesh, 7, divides his time between school and work. His work is to meld bangles over an open fire at a factory near his house in Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, a town well known for glass and bangle work. “I work to help my family pay off debt,” he says. His father does the same work and earns the same amount—less than a rupee for a dozen bangles.
Cut to the present.
Mukesh is 35; his father is dead. Frail, with blurred vision and grey hair, he is still doing the same work, as are his sons, aged 10, 12 and 14. This is the story of most children in Firozabad.
Meera Dewan captured the lives of child workers in Firozabad’s glass factories in a documentary in 1986. Twenty-six years and two laws against child labour later, she revisited the city with a camera to find out how the children she had documented in 1986 were doing as adults. “The situation is still the same, except that children work at home now. They are forced to work, deprived of their childhood and exposed to health hazards, owing to the fumes and contaminated air and water released by the factories,” says Dewan.
Her return is chronicled in a 52-minute documentary, Stained Glass, which will be screened at the 14th edition of the Open Frame Film Festival And Forum. Being organized by the New Delhi-based Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) at the India International Centre in the Capital, the five-day festival, which starts today, will engage with a variety of themes, ranging from social commentaries to farmer suicides. Most film screenings will be followed by a discussion with the film-makers.
“The festival provides the much-needed platform for independent film-makers and is a way to engage people actively with the documentary form,” says Rajiv Mehrotra, managing trustee, PSBT.
Among the 40 films that will be screened is Candles In The Wind by Kavita Bahl and Nandan Saxena, the makers of national award-winning film Cotton For My Shroud (2011), a heart-rending story of the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. Their new film is on how small and marginal farmers in Punjab, the country’s food bowl, escape debt by killing themselves, leaving their wives to bear the burden. “The women are trying to renegotiate their space in a patriarchal society. The landless widows work as daily wagers, weave dhurries (rugs) from home for Rs.100 (a dhurrie takes about a month to complete). A large number of them have joined farmers’ unions in Punjab to put pressure on the government to fulfil its promise of providing ‘compensation’ to the families of the farmers who have committed suicide due to failed agriculture,” says Bahl.
Harjant Gill, an assistant professor of anthropology and cultural studies at Towson University, Maryland, US, makes four Punjabi men face the camera and explain their ideas of masculinity in his 26-minute Mardistan (Macholand): Reflections On Indian Manhood.
Films on art and dance are also part of the festival, like Sharada Ramanathan’s Natyanubhava on Natya Yoga, more commonly known as dance yoga—a combination of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga. Unfolding The Pata Story by Supriyo Sen explores the earliest form of audio-visual storytelling, patachitra, practised by a group known as patuas, in West Bengal.
The Open Frame Film Festival And Forum is on from 29 August-2 September, 10am onwards, at India International Centre, 40, Max Mueller Marg, Lodi Estate, New Delhi. Seating on first-come, first-served basis. Click here for details.