Wanderlust inside an endangered jute mill: is that even possible? Documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain (Proof, IFFLA 2020) paints a rich and lyrical portrait of Hukumchand Mills, one of the last standing in West Bengal, once home to the largest jute industry in the world and providing livelihood to millions. Today, ravaged by the churn of mechanization, demographics and neoliberalism, the stately industry hangs by its own tough threads, barely cared for even by the State.
Jain doesn’t by any means romanticize the levels of strife within this downfall. Quite the contrary. She does however spin the most delicate fabrics of filmmaking, crafting an atmospheric chamber of a cinematic experience that elevates the hums of humdrum, where the skilled laborers whom her camera resolutely follows have agency enough to break into satirical song. Preferring to lay their testimony over imagery from field to factory floor, Jain converses with both generational workers and freelance adolescents about the precarity of their dreams. In a time when labor rights across several global industries are in peril, Jain’s foray into the “fiber of the future” is synecdoche for an unspooling post-industrial India.
Postscript: Credit for the film’s exceptional sound design goes to the brilliant Niraj Gera.