Hurtling towards progress

Bhumika K. | The Hindu | 17 December 2014

Have you winced at the way Bengaluru is being ripped apart to make it a shiny new megapolis? Our Metropolis is a film that brings you voices that have gone largely unheard in the city's development narrative

Has a day gone by when you haven’t asked yourself ‘What is happening to my Bengaluru?’ Anybody who has lived in the city and shares a loving relationship with its myriad beautiful spaces is bound to ask this and several other questions seeing Bengaluru in its current rush to ‘progress’ and reimagining a new identity. Anthropologist Usha Rao and filmmaker Gautam Sonti too had these thoughts running in their heads, and when the first pillar of Namma Metro came up on M.G.Road five years ago, they felt they just had to pick up their camera to record Bengaluru’s otherwise untold stories.

Our Metropolis is a film that has lived with the city and its changes over the last five years. In this feature-length documentary co-directed by Gautam and Usha, you hear the voices of people who have lived in and loved Bengaluru. They have undergone a deep sense of loss with the dramatic changes, specially in infrastructure; people who have lost their homes, seen entire roads vanish, and localities transform beyond recognition and their business slip away through their fingers as malls rise from the rubble of their lives.

“Bengaluru is changing in a way most people don’t want, we felt. And that voice is a suppressed voice. The initial impulse was from us, that this is not how Indian cities should change. There is a lack of democracy and transparency in the process,” says Gautam. The filmmakers see the effort to transform the city as benefiting global business players, leaving little space for residents to shape its future. “The film gives voice to those left out of the goodies of development — the labourers on construction sites, the Pourakarmikas of the BBMP...”

“Gautam and I were thinking that there is this fixed idea of what a city should be. We are moving towards mono-cultural cities. We want to replicate cities from elsewhere in the world. We want every city to look and see in a certain way, thereby erasing its spirit,” says Usha. She is quick to add, “The film is not about nostalgia or loss of something old.” The film captures the transformation of the cityscape between 2008 and 2013: spanning environment, heritage, destruction of homes, proliferation of malls and gated communities, and shrinking of green cover. It follows individuals, citizen groups, environmentalists and academics who challenge the State’s ideal of the ‘world class metropolis.’ “We have a fixed idea of what Bengaluru should be — like Singapore with wide roads and glass buildings. But is there a model that suits us better?” asks Usha.

With the city as their muse and protagonist, Gautam and Usha met up with many lawyers, activists, environmentalists with hard facts to back what they were saying was wrong with the way the city was moving. "We felt that their voices should be brought out; not just that of so-called progressive modern Bengaluru -- the IT-BT sector," says Gautam. Among the voices are Malini, whose heritage home lies in the path of the Metro; Girija, who is forced to camp amongst the ruins of her home after it was bulldozed with no prior notice or compensation; Professor Nuthan, who fights the city government to stop the construction of a 100 ft wide road that cuts through the Agricultural University campus, destroying trees and plots critical for research on food security. The need to 'beautify' the city has meant loss of livelihood for Zameer and other street vendors who have been cleared from pavements where they have earned their livelihood for over two decades.

Both Gautam and Usha reiterate that they are not activists and that's not the tone of their film. They are merely observers, who echo what most of middle-class Bengaluru was feeling when it came on the streets to protest over these five years. "There is an alternative view point and it's not anti-development," says Usha. "There is no participatory process in the change as it has been portrayed. It's an eyewash. you can say anything on paper, get a 1,000 signatures..."points out Gautam, quoting specific instances they filmed, including a BBMP meeting with people opposing the widening of a road. "Nobody is a Luddite. Who doesn't want clean, cheap, fast transport? But certain costs have not been taken into account. The Metro connects the outer parts of the city. The idea was to ease traffic ingestion, but people are going to use it to come in large numbers into the city..."points out Gautam. He also concedes "We are playing ten role of the biased observer. the people in ten film are a bit like us. It's hard to be guilt-free. We are contributing by simply being middle-class."

Vikalp Bengaluru will screen Our Metropolis, today, December 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Everest Talkies, Frazer Town. Passes available at the venue.

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