THEY CALL HER ‘MAFIA’
Director:Kushal Batunge, India
This is the story of my mother who runs the family by selling and smuggling alcohol in the state of Gujarat (India) where it is banned. As her youngest son is drawn to the same activity, her fear as a mother leaves her shackled with the stigma of being ‘born criminal’.
Set in Chharanagar, one of the biggest ghettos of Ahmedabad city, inhabited by fifteen thousand Chhara people who are stigmatised as ‘born criminals’ by British colonial decree and today’s society. Still, more than half of them engage in liquor brewing, smuggling, or thieving. Sunita, a member of the community, sold clothes door-to-door to help her thief father run the house. She could not study and had no idea of her condition. Nor did she know who she was. Her father got her married to Vijay when she was just seventeen years old, hoping that Vijay would do something for the upliftment of the family given his educational background. Vijay wanted to become a teacher. But as other people in the community, he too failed to get a good job because of his identity. So finally the family decided the best way to run their life would be as criminals. As almost everyone around.
They began by brewing country liquor, which helped them to earn a good amount of money to raise their children with a better lifestyle and education. Vijay practiced law at Metropolitan court for some years, but later he started drinking all day and night, mourning his failures making it more frustrating. The tragic day came when he died. Left his wife and two school going boys and an infant girl behind. Despite many difficulties Sunita continued raising and educating her children by expanding her business to smuggling foreign liquor from the neighbouring state of Rajasthan, where alcohol is legal.
Sunita sells alcohol at home, she has to bribe the police, all the way from the local constables to the commissioners of the city. They actively support this business. They guard her when she is selling booze on the road. Infect, they often inform her before raiding her own alcohol den. But when there is pressure on the police, they have to nab people like her and put them in jail under the PASA (prevention of anti-social activities) act for at least six months. This happens especially when there is an election or major political gatherings in the Ahmedabad city. That’s when she has to go underground and the police, which usually is the accomplice, becomes the oppressor for her and her small family in Chharanagar.
For a period of time things go smoothly. She successfully smuggles rounds of alcohol in Ahmedabad city to its rural territories from the neighbouring state of Rajasthan. She becomes a known smuggler among the other mafias and acquires the image of a strong woman. After countless rounds of smuggling when she was jailed under Gujarat PASA Act 1985. Sunita was left with no choice but to put her younger son in the activity as a substitute of her. Despite less expectations he made a way and successfully dealt with his strange life until his mother was released. But when Sunita came out of the jail she was shocked to see that her problems and her issues have changed the life of her son which she never wanted. She tries to hold him back from walking on this path but Aniket remained adamant and believed it to be a better option than going out to find a job than being embarrassingly denied because of his stigmatised Chhara identity. He keeps his position in the business despite her disgrace. Mother feels guilty about making him walk the path of criminality. Aniket learns to navigate the system, how to bribe the authorities, and to make his life of crime seem normal.
This intimate story, told through the lens of the protagonist’s son, will counter the virtuous propaganda about Gujarat being a ‘dry state’, its endemic corruption, and the forced criminality of former nomadic tribes in independent India, a life lived by millions in the country.
As a kid I used to see my father brewing country liquor in the mornings and then going to work, after dropping me at school. In my community alcohol is an integral part of our culture, it is everywhere. From our wedding customs to our livelihood and even after death. We worship the ancestors with offerings of alcohol.
My parents experienced a different side of the business. My father became an alcoholic and mother the boss. My father’s early death made sense within the story of our community.
By studying my own family I am learning how all the generations have been forced into this, especially as my younger brother enters the cycle of crime. It is both a personal and a community story. It is both an artistic experience for me as a filmmaker and a personal challenge to escape from this deranged lifestyle. I hope it can help others.
My parents introduced me to the hovering legal threat over all our lives all the time. We have been historically oppressed, and no one else is helping, so we have to help ourselves. We are ‘born criminals’. There are many millions of us.
Kushal Batunge was born and raised in Chharanagar, Ahmedabad. He graduated from Gujarat University with a degree in English literature, and has been making short documentaries for the last seven years. He has also worked with renowend filmmakers such as Dakxin Bajrange, Vivek Chaudhary, Anand Patwardhan, Rakesh Sharma and other regional filmmakers of Gujarati film industry such as.
He is co-writing a book and video series on the oral history of the Chhara tribe with Georgetown University professor, Dr. Henry Schwarz. He has been documentation manager at Budhan Theatre for the last ten years. He also practices street and playback theatre for the cause of Denotified Tribes throughout India. Along with his documentary work, he has also written and directed commercials for corporate media in Gujarat and Bombay.
Being in the early stages of Production, the plan for the immediate next stage is to dive into production for a longer period of time shooting the smuggling sequences in Rajasthan and Gujarat border and rural territories after the Covid-19 pandemic is in control. The aim is to capture Sunita’s character in the many sets of locations where she deals and meets other big mafias in the alcohol smuggling activity and at home as well when she is a mother and mafia both at the same time. Which will take us through the coherent and fearful life that the family lives.
We are the four people crew, Director, Cinematographer, Sound Recordist and an assistant. The process of this film shooting is also very participatory. Because the director is directly related to the protagonist of the film. The characters sometimes speak directly into the camera while they are responding to me and it gives a feeling of the unique access.
At this moment of time. The production is on hold for some time due to COVID-19 pandemic. The crew only shoots when something extremely important is going on and which we can not afford to miss. As well as the filmmaker is applying to various other grants for the funding of the project. The aim is to get through various reputed pitching platforms such as DOCEDGE, DMZ, IDFA and other A grade institutional supports.
Meanwhile the project is likely to get into the post production stage in the mid of 2021.
Total Budget – $1,60,000
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