A week in Mumbai with a community journalist
Amol’s story sounds just about the perfect plot for a Bollywood film: Man of the family, with a mother, 1 sister with her children, 1 sister waiting to be married. Voice of the community, running through rows of slums, interviewing residents, knocking on doors of errant factory owners and idling authorities. Filmmaker wishing-to-be, juggling TV odd jobs and film grant proposals for his indie film projects.
I was working on a documentary that covers ‘behind-the-scenes’ issues that Amol as a community journalist face as he go about making his next news story: a factory opposite his slum community is spewing out thick smoke and polluting the air of that area. More than well-prepared for my shoot, Amol laid out a proposed schedule for my week’s stay.
“Dixie-ji, we will go interview the factory owner on Wednesday, the doctor on Thursday. And tomorrow, I am meeting some of the slum residents to discuss how we should approach this factory issue...”
Solid packed plan to film Amol in all stages of making a news story: (1) discuss with residents of his community (2) gather interviews of those affected (3) compile research and interview factory owner (4) deliver P2C (5) work with Video Volunteers to put pressure on factory.
A politician who runs the area got wind of Amol and dropped by Amol’s home with a bunch of 6-8 of his lackeys. As with much of the political scene in India, this figure was rumored to have been bought over by corporates including said factory.
Residents were intimidated and the discussion was called off. Neither did they want to sign a letter to support Amol in investigating the issue. Amol’s family fearing for their safety. Older grievances of Amol “being the man of the family and not getting a proper office job” were dug out and replayed. Simply put, our neatly laid out 1 week shooting plan was shredded to pieces. But is there still a story in all of these? Why not?
For me, it was a week that capture not only the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of making a news story, but of the community journalist himself. Observing heated conversations within Amol’s 10x10 foot home, chatting with Amol on the 45 minute train rides to and fro Mankhurd(where Amol lives), following a determined Amol as he speaks to crowds and interviews waiting patients--these complexities revealed themselves, layer by layer, over the week. It became less of the factory, and more of Amol and how he deals with the sometimes shaky support from his community, the pressures from his family, and the inner questions that a struggling young filmmaker faces.
One evening, we were on the train back to downtown Mumbai. Watching the city lights from the window, Amol said, “Dixie-ji, why do you and I do this? There is so little money, still we work so hard to tell our stories.”
We laughed and take comfort in the fact that we are not alone. Leave tomorrow’s worries for tomorrow.