Elevate Difference

Andheri

This short film was Sushrut Jain's final project at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He plans to expand the character study into a feature length film. Shot on the street in a Mumbai suburb of the same name, Andheri does an exceptional job of communicating what it feels like to walk down the street in urban India. Every movie with an Indian scene seems to have a few crowded streets where the camera jostles and token cows, beggar children, and colorful saris move through the frame. Granted, all that does happen on the street in India, but unlike Bollywood movies, Western studio productions, and poverty porn films (ahem, Slumdog Millionaire), Andheri's street scenes are mundane. No men with painted faces carry a pile of cloth the size of a Volkswagen on their heads. It does not happen to be Holi when people throw colored powder all over each other. Unless creepy old men on buses are an icon—and perhaps they are, although not a particularly Indian one—this film is devoid of cliché. Ignoring these pointed images of India, Jain seems to have just held a camera at waist level and taken a walk on a random weeknight.

The story is of a young woman (Swati Sen) employed, apparently for her whole life, as live-in maid to a rather grotesque woman (Daisy Irani) obsessed with soap operas and a good foot soak. She is disrespected, but not (in this version of the story, at least) abused, and seems well taken care of, however limited her options. The movie hints at all the themes that Indian cinema and films about India generally hit on—caste and social order, poverty, Muslims, romance, and the shackles of tradition. Should our heroine make a break for it?

Out on the street a whole potential alternate life opens up. The short film takes place in that suspended period when you've made your move, but there is still time to turn back. The story, Jain has explained, came from the stories he heard from maids, working people, and other underground characters in India. Andheri's plot was loosely based on one story he had heard, the teller of which got to take part in the filming.

In Indian cinema a film like this is called a "realistic." Funny that a very obvious word becomes a tag line. Although, as in the West, the action flicks and canned rom-coms will always dominate, there is the opportunity now for personal stories to find an audience.

Andheri has been well received at festivals, winning official selection at over a dozen events this year. It was shot with a relatively small crew of about twenty on. Go figure, a random weeknight in Mumbai. Jain is, in addition to expanding the story of Andheri, working on a coming of age comedy about boys taking their board exams, but all they want to do is start a heavy metal band.

Written by: Ann Raber, September 23rd 2009

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