This week, apart from the usual Bolly and Hollywood releases, there is a documentary titled In Their Shoes out in PVR cinemas too.
A few years ago, it was unthinkable for a documentary film to be released; interested audiences would watch them at festivals or free screenings, but would not buy tickets to see them. They still don’t—at least not in large numbers, but every ticket sale counts.
In the last few months, documentaries like Gulabi Gang, Celluloid Man, Fire In The Blood, The World Before Her, Katiyabaaz, Superman of Malegaon have been released to encouraging reviews and at least a few discerning members of the audience. Gulabi Gang, in particular was far superior to the fiction based on the same subject (Sampat Pal’s group of vigilante women).
These days, social media works much better than word of mouth, and all cinema lovers who go to watch documentaries or offbeat films, should let their friends and followers on social media know. Because, in the end, it is not enough for these films to win awards, they have to do well at the box-office too. As Bollywood films get increasingly unrealistic, derivative and overly commercial, it is important for an alternative cinema to be developed and nurtured.
Urban youngsters have little or no idea how the rest of the country lives, getting some well-made documentaries into moviehalls and and prime time television is the way to expose them to Indian reality. Maybe, around the release of these films, there should also be discussion forums and offline meetups of social media groups. Get the word out before the next Bollywood potboiler takes away the screens allotted to small films.
In Their Shoes has been made by Atul Sabharwal (who directed Aurangzeb), and is about the once thriving leather shoe trade in Agra. Most of us perhaps won’t even remember, that before the shiny, synthetic footwear from China and the Far East flooded the market, the sturdy leather shoes we wore came from Agra—those shoes that lasted for years till we got tired of them.
Things are no longer the same in Agra, what with labour problems, lack of government support; Sabharwal’s father dissuaded him from following him into the shoe trade. He is a part of the film, along with other traders and exporters, who give an insight into what drove the town (the chief attraction of which is the Taj Mahal), its narrow gullies buzzing with activity. Most of all it is a filmmaker’s personal journey into his roots. Watch it.