The stars of the slums | VPRO Documentary

The stars of the slums | VPRO Documentary

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The first thing you notice on arriving in India are the slums... which you can usually see from the runway. Under these corrugated iron roofs you can only imagine a miserable life. People living on top of each other in squalor, just like in a Dickens novel. That's what I thought about Dharavi, one of the world's largest slums.

Slumdog Millionaire was shot here. Obviously there are many problems. There is only one toilet per 1500 residents. No wonder there is a lot of cholera, typhoid fever and malaria. But what struck me on my first visit was that no-one wanted to leave. Dharavi boasts thousands of factories with an 800-million euro annual turnover. A large part of Dharavi is dedicated to recycling all kinds of things.

Plastic, cardboard. Over there a fridge is being dismantled. This is the ground zero of the recycling industry. I'll go and see what they're taking apart and where it all comes from. Hello. Hello. What do you do here? Second-hand goods come in here and get sold again.

From the things that are left over, the parts are sold. Are you the boss? -No, I'm a customer. I look to see if there's anything useful. Fridges, freezers, all kinds of things. Does it come from India or abroad? -No, only from India.

You're also in the recycling business? -Yes. All kinds of things are recycled here. -Everything. It's a huge area. People come here from outside. All kinds of business are only done here. If you go inside, you'll be surprised. Anything, whatever you imagine you can see over here.

Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire? They shot it over here in Dharavi. -What do you think of that movie? It's a nice movie, but it represents India like a slumdog. All misery and squalor. -Yes, tramps and robberies. One thing I notice is, they don't have the labour safety laws that we have. I don't think they have any.

The 250,000 recyclers in Dharavi make money with all kinds of waste. Is Mahesh here? From India and the rest of the world come oil drums, computers... mobile phones and ink cartridges... that are scraped clean by boys who are permanently covered in ink.

Waste doesn't exist. Everything gets a second life. A reincarnation of goods. Mahesh? How are you? -Good. Everything alright? -Yes. Fresh new clothing? Can we see? -Yes, why not? Everyone here does this work. This is also full of plastic.

They're working. We pass the plastic bottles through a machine. Then the plastic gets melted in another machine.

Is this dangerous? -Yes, it's a very dangerous machine. The smallest mistake can cause you to lose your hand. It will just disappear into the machine. Occasionally someone accidentally loses his fingers. When you work with this machine, you have to be very careful.

It's not a problem for your ears? In the beginning it is, but you get used to it. After working here for a few days, the noise won't bother you anymore. No protection. No. I used to work with this machine myself. Do you live in Dharavi? -Yes. My father came here in 1973. I do everything here.

Where is he from? -Uttar Pradesh. Why is the dog green? It's a green dog. Yes, they turn green because this is a paint shop. So somebody painted the dog? What's the story with the blue dog? -There's no story.

The dog stays near the building where they bring dye materials. When they spread those materials, they go inside and get blue. It's from the dyeing process. I never saw a blue dog before. Are all these materials from India or also from abroad? The materials are imported from different countries. Raw materials, packing goods. From the US, Malaysia, Korea. A lot of different countries. It's being brought from there.

What do you think of that? They don't process their own waste. This is not waste. Raw materials are brought from abroad to make things. This is the packing waste of that. What are they doing now? -Checking the vats. If it's rusted, it goes into a different quality. There are two qualities. The barrel quality.

Why is it that there's so much recycling going on in Dharavi? In the early 60s or '65, it was a complete dumping area. People came here and took whatever they found and started filling the area. After a few years there was a big ground over here. The government gave a commission to the people to build homes here. On the dump? -On the dump. They started making small huts with tarpaulins in different shades.

Later they gave permission for electricity and water. That came after the eighties. -Dharavi was created from a dump. They started to live on the dump. -Before Bombay was only up to here. Is this also yours? -No. Jelle. -This is my uncle. Family business? Okay, not bad.

This is where the plastic is sorted. It gets sorted according to colour. They sort it and put it in these containers. Then it goes into plastic bags that are collected over there. Once all this is done, it goes to the machine you see there. That machine slowly crushes the plastic.

How much plastic do you sort a day? -About two tons each day. We sort about two tons per day. It all comes from Mumbai. We don't have to go to Delhi or Kolkata. We get it all from Mumbai. Poor people and children collect goods here to sell to shops in Mumbai. They earn about 20 eurocents a day.

That's right, isn't it? We're poor, so we have no choice but to work here. We do everything they ask. We have to do as they say. Where are we now? -This is where we dry the plastic.

Drying? -Yes, drying. How many kilos of plastic is here? I think there's at least 500 tons of plastic here. When you see this, all this plastic, does it make you happy? Yes, but not totally. We're not totally happy, because the people here lack many things. We have a business, but our workers don't have an easy life.

People don't like living here. They want a decent house somewhere else. But to work here they have to live here. That's a problem for them. Do you like your work? -Yes, because it brings in money. We can buy decent clothing. It's good for us. There are people who don't like all this rubbish. They don't understand that this is a goldmine for us.

What's going on? -Friday prayer. Friday prayer. Today is Friday. Because of the lack of space, there are no large mosques in Dharavi. So every Friday afternoon they roll out carpets, so everyone can pray outside. A very efficient use of space.

Right now it's quiet in Dharavi. It won't get more quiet than this. It's Good Friday, so the Christians have a holiday. It's the day of monkey god Hanuman, so the Hindus have a holiday too. And it's Friday prayer for Muslims. So this is Dharavi at its most quiet.

On a previous trip my Muslim guide showed me a nativity stable he liked. It had two floors and a corrugated sheet roof, just like in the slums. One million Muslims, Hindus and Christians live together in Dharavi. On just two square kilometres, and somehow it works. What's with the flag? What's going on? -That's for Lord Hanuman.

Are they trying to pull it down? It's very heavy. It's made of bamboo. They have to support it on that side. One group is pulling on that side to keep it steady. On top you can see a coconut. They shake it, and who catches it is lucky. What's inside the cradle? -Inside? That's Lord Hanuman. The colours show it's the birthday of Hanuman.

He's our god. -Oh, he's your god. Why is Hanuman your god? -Because he's very powerful. He's very strong. Happy Hanuman. I have to eat it? Very nice.

I have the feeling the social bonds are very tight here. Everybody knows each other. The people of Dharavi are very friendly.

Hail Ganesha. -Hail. For some reason I feel most at ease in places like these. Places where people may be poor, but make the most of it together.

Where I'm taken in like a lost son, with the unconditional love of a family. What's the deal with the electricity? -This is government electricity. Each slum, each room has an electricity meter. The meter is for the whole slum? No, one each. This person has his meter there... this person has his meter, the owner of the house has a meter.

Each month a person from the government comes and checks... the number on the meter. -So it's all completely legal. We have to pay for it. -It looks like it's unregulated. But there's a meter. I notice you're not wearing any shoes.

I made a wish at the temple for the piercing festival. I prayed to god that I don't have to wear shoes on my feet. What's the reason for not wearing shoes? It's a way to pay respect to god. If we go to temple, we remove our shoes. I just prayed for this life I'm not going to wear any shoes. I'm not going to eat chicken or meats. -Very clean.

That's why you weren't dancing. -That's not the reason. I can dance. I guess you enjoyed it a lot. These are the slums, which you can see around. In the future this will be demolished and there will be high-rise buildings. People who have their own property will get a flat in the same space.

So the people who originally lived there will move into the flats. And they'll see the rest of the floors. -The builder will sell it. The builder will sell the flats to other people. Do you think all of Dharavi will be changing or disappear? Yes, I think so. There's a place in Dharavi where there are only buildings. I have a good view of that. I think that will be the future of Dharavi. Where would you prefer to live? -I would say in the slum.

I was born and brought up here. I really love the slum. I can say 60% in a slum and 40% in a building. In a building I can separate everything but in the slum I can add an extra floor.

What do you love so much about it? -I was born and brought up there. And it's not so high and I have a window. My own window, and I have my own room. I wake up when the sun rises, with the noise of parrots and pigeons.

I really love that. -No traffic noise. No traffic noise, nothing. No pollution at all. I love waking up and looking out of my window. It's really nice. You live close to this place? -Yes.

Can I have a look? -Sure. Shekar, what are the plans for the room? I just have to paint what's left. There's more electricity work and plumbing work.

So that I can take a bath inside. I have my own water tank I can fill... so that I can take a warm bath. -Your own bathroom? It's not a bathroom. Where I can just take a bath here inside. That's a mess. Actually I'm thinking of putting my computer in this corner. And I'll use this space for my bed. That's my idea. I'm going to cover this whole thing, because now it's a very hot season.

I'm sweating every day. I want to cover it with Thermocol, which makes it cool. So now I'm living in a very high house. I feel that way, because this is the highest house.

Every neighbourhood in Dharavi has its own expertise and its own Indians. You don't see the illegal tanneries, but you smell them. There the Tamils live. The potters are from Gujarat. They live among their kilns...

which give off smoke all day from the cotton they burn on. After just 30 minutes my mucus had turned black. And they've often lived here for generations. The water supply here is for three hours.

And in those three hours we divide it between the houses. So everyone gets 20 minutes. And it's very fast. -20 minutes and that's it? For the rest of the day. So you have to be quick doing the dishes.

She has her own tap. -She does? That's for 24 hours? -No, for three hours. Three hours. Some people have their own pipes. -Three hours of water is a luxury.

Yes. Everybody who likes to and has some money buys a pipe. So one pipe's for her, one pipe's for that family, one pipe for them. So in that way. -They built their own water system. Therefore they have three hours, because it's their own pipe.

But we don't have our own pipe. It's very expensive to have one. For around 40,000 you have your own pipe. For three hours of water. He's filling his tank. Didn't he already fill it before? -This is water for the houses below. Hello. -How are you? Fine, thank you. So what's going on inside?

This is a new house. And also very... How do you say that? Bad luck. -Against evil? Your parents? -My parents, yes. From today on they will stay here. So we've brought over some things.

When the puja is finished, friends and neighbours will come. We'll give them some food. They will visit our new house. Tonight or tomorrow I'll bring all the things from my aunt's house.

So this will be my house. Tomorrow. Do you believe in all these things? -Yes, I have to believe that. And it's a good thing, that bad luck will go when we're in a new house.

So yes, we believe that. Dharavi isn't Mumbai's only slum. There are millions of people living in slums, and those are the lucky ones. Entire families live under overpasses, on traffic islands, on station platforms. Due to the economic growth, people come from the countryside every day.

A city the size of Chicago would have to be built each year to accommodate them. What kind of work do you do? -We're carriers. How much do you make a day? -60 to 70 Euros. What do you think?

He's lying. He makes 80 Euros. We make just enough to feed ourselves. Sometimes we have work, sometimes there's nothing to do. We only make money when we have work. The rent is lower here. We have food here. Food that costs 30 Eurocents here costs 70 Eurocents in better areas.

Things are cheaper here. Here people live who make two or three Euros a day. A room here costs 70 or 80 Euros. They live there with other people and share the rent. Or they sleep in cars. There are so many people that not everyone can find a place to sleep.

If we sleep on the street, we'll be prey to pickpockets. Sometimes there's a fight. Out of the way. Out of the way. Everything alright? Yes? How many people work here? -60 to 65. What's your name? -Jelle.

I'm Shamim. Where are you from? -From Bihar. South? -West-Bihar. The others are from Uttar Pradesh. But I come from Bihar. They respect me, so I feel comfortable with them.

I enjoy their company. When I'm with them or with others, I don't feel lonely. I see them as my family. How long have you been here? -Twelve years. Do you have a family? -Yes.

How many children? -Two. How often do you go back to Bihar? -Every three, four, six months. About every six months.

That's good. Don't you miss them? -Every day, every second or minute. I think of my family all the time. And I miss my children, my mother, my dad and my wife.

This is the bed linen of Mohammad Kaleem. This belongs to Ramesh. Rameshchandra Takharmar Tiwari. This belongs to Mulla Pilpili. Shamim Bhai. Is this yours? -Yes. This belongs to Mohammad Shamim Ansari from Bihar. Do you work here? -Yes.

Yes? So you speak English? -No. I just joined an English speaking course. I'm trying to improve my English.

We actually work till 8 pm. But we stop at 7 pm to go to English class. We come back at 10 pm. Then we cook and eat. After midnight we go to sleep and at 9 am we start working again.

What's your dream? My dream is to be able to speak English fluently. We want to live with our families. No one in our village speaks English. We want to go back and teach the people there to speak English. If they learn to speak English...

Wherever you go in India, it's important to speak English. English is a must. If the villagers learn English, they can go anywhere in India. Where did you learn Hindi? -I only speak it a little. Where did you learn? -In Mussoorie. Where's your... -My room is here.

Your room. And your things? -This is all I have. Are these really all your possessions? There's a photo of my wife and child inside. You want to see it? How do you say 'show'? Two students.

This is my wife and my child. -Beautiful. What's your daughter's name? -Aksha. Is that a Muslim name? -Yes, I'm Muslim. They sleep on their work tables at night. But misery is a relative concept. For a Dutchman Dharavi is a horrible place to live. But for a poor migrant from the countryside it's paradise.

In Dharavi he earns up to ten times as much as back home. He has a roof over his head and electricity, often for the first time. Put on 'It's Twelve'. Where do you practise dancing? -I dance at home. At home? -Yes, at home. I practise the new dances at home.

I believe a choreography should consist of different dance styles. The movements we make depend on the musical instrument used. We dance with a bowl or a plate under our feet, for example. What does your family think about your dancing? My family would like me to become a good dancer and develop myself. A girl got the chance to work for the film Slumdog Millionaire.

That girl was given a great opportunity. So now my mother believes her son can also get a chance. Maybe I'll be in a Bollywood film. Is that your brother? -My older brother.

What's your name? -Ravi. You don't mind him practising? -No. No? -I don't mind. What's your dream now? I only have one dream. This is our parents' home.

My wish is to become a famous dancer or maybe a movie star. I also want to be able to take care of my parents... and show my whole family that I too have become prosperous. I want to achieve greatness and show them. I want to make money.

I want my parents to be proud of me. Dharavi, 12 o'clock at night. I thought it would be quiet, shops closed, see where everyone sleeps. But most of the shops and factories are still open. I really wonder if people ever sleep here. You sleep here? You have no home? -I'll sleep anywhere.

But always on the street? -I sleep anywhere. What is that notebook for? -Here I write down what I earn. What kind of work do you do? -I load things. I'll do any work that is available. Where are you from? From Mumbai? No, from Uttar Pradesh.

Where do you sleep? -We sleep here. I'm cleaning it now. On cardboard? -Yes, cardboard. I somehow had the idea that people in slums only huddled inside hovels...

and for the rest worked hard and were unhappy, but people also unwind here. I've even seen a gym, which you don't expect in a slum. I think it's this way. I was Mr Mumbai in 2008 and 2009, for my India. I represent India. -Of all of Mumbai? That's my trophy. I keep all my trophies there.

I represented my state, my country. After that I took a break for two years to set up my gym. To get settled down and stable financially and then I started again. Here are some snapshots I kept. This is my six-pack. This was in 2008. This is the original paper. This is the title I won: Mr Mumbai. This is the state level, Maharashtra.

This is India level again. This was in 2009. Is this for you the most pure form of happiness? Yes, this is my dream come true. -You were the most happy in your life? Very happy. I was like on top of my dream.

This is what I always dreamt about. It's my dream come true. Was it also the feeling that you were from Dharavi... Yes, I accomplished this and a lot of politicians praised me. Because I represented Dharavi as well as my country. You have to work hard for it.

What's on the programme for today? -I'm doing a back workout. Can you show me? -Sure, definitely. Come. Come.

It's all in pounds. I'll show some workouts. I'll show some movements of mine. You don't need anybody spotting you? -I'll spot myself.

Alright. Big guy. Good job. Normally I keep a range between 10 or 12. That's the maximum we press. Today I have between 600 and 1000 members.

I have reached that in two years. Next month it will be two years. I have the feeling Dharavi is like a miniature India. You find all religions here. Tamils, Muslims... people from all different states and religions. And all different languages.

A lot of multinational companies are coming to this place. Because Dharavi is known as the largest slum in Asia. Do you also flex in contests? -Yes, I have to flex. Can we see you flexing? Is it possible? It's possible, but I'm not in good shape. Have you seen these? -I can show you. Great. What about your six-pack? -That's a one pack right now.

It's a one pack? -It's like you. No, it's not like me. -It's a big paunch. Of all these pictures, which one do you like most? This is my favourite, Jay Cutler. -This one? What's his name? -Jay Cutler, from the US.

He's an American? -Yes. In 2007 and 2008 he was Mr Olympia. That's like the top title. -Yes. People are crazy for these kind of huge bodies. He has a real six-pack. -Yes. He can show some flexing. -Let's have a look.

Your pants as well. He's from Dharavi as well. He lives just five minutes away from here. He normally visits my gym. This is the only gym he goes to.

it's a drawback we don't have a/c. The humidity is so high. His body doesn't take it, so he's looking for a big gym with a/c... because he's playing for the big competitions, not for small ones. Nationally, internationally and Asia. So he's a big guy.

What's his happiest moment? -One second. What's your happiest moment? -When I become Mr Mumbai. He says when he wins the coming Mr Mumbai contest. That will be the happiest moment of his life. He's getting prepared for that. Your body looks bigger today. -Yes.

Since yesterday. This used to be an idyllic beach once, but the city is moving in from all sides. The beach is full of drug needles and the addicts who use them. Oddly enough I never saw as much waste in the slums as on this beach. And yet this is a place where rituals are performed.

Where are the participants in the ceremony? Where's the flower? Have you got it? What's going on here? -This is a celebration. We're praying. Rahul, Rahul. Come forward. Take this. Whose offering is this? I carry the milk can, because my brother has two sons. I see them as my sons as well. I'm doing this to give them a good future.

We're going to the sea. -Bring the can and the offerings. All go together. We're going to take a bath there. -Where?

On that side. -So what's the idea of the bathing? The bathing? This is the beach where Ganesha and Shiva live. We throw our good things and our bad luck and everything here. So we come here. Like yesterday I walked and also travelled by train. Some people eat eggs or chicken, so non-veg, and they're not clean.

Also some women, and by mistake I touched this woman. So before the piercing, I should take a bath in this water. She was close to you and she was eating chicken? No, I don't know in this group who is eating chicken. But they shake my hand to say hello, so that's a problem. Then you're going to pull something? -We're going to pierce that rod. And I also have some hooks.

You're going to pull that what? -I'm not going to pull anything. I'm just going to pierce a rod in my mouth. Not on the back? -Also on the back. I made my hooks. Where's the hook? I brought my new dress and everything.

These are the hooks. -This will go into your back. Come, let's go again. Go far into the water.

Just behind me someone's relieving himself, and here they're swimming. Are you clean now? -Yes. That's good. The sea doesn't look so clean. But you can smell it. Here we do the piercing.

When it's the Ganesha festival we come to dip the Ganesh here. And the water is not so dirty. What actually is the idea behind the hooks, the pain? Why do you have to have pain to get clean? It's not for the pain. If I pray, I can't see god anywhere. I only see pictures. If I saw him, I could ask him for punishment.

But I can't see him, so I give myself punishment. At that moment do you see him then? Yes, when we're like... If you call me, I won't respond. Now your arms. Didn't you put it on? -Yes, it's fine like this. Is it visible? Do you think he will win? -Yes, of course.

Good luck. -Thank you. That's how it all began in America too. A tough world where you can make it by working hard.

And where you're worth nothing if you don't. Where you can work your way up from a poor peasant to businessman. Or body building champion. The Indian dream, as it were. Maybe India will be the new America. The winner is Shashikant Hoskar.

2021-01-24 14:24

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