|Collective teeth brushing in Angaditheru (source: DVD Ayngaran)|
Migration to the cities is a common problem, especially for developing countries. The pressure of the never ending stream of fortune seekers to the megapolises of Asia, Africa and Latin America increases constantly. Slums are one face of the modern world. Ashis Nandy describes the slum as “an entity that territorializes the transition from the village to the city” (1998:11-12). The other face of the modern world are migrant workers. A close look to China, the society with the largest number of migrant workers, enlightens, that there are some problems in the transition zone. It is quite a restricted zone, as Dalia Davin shows. She describes, that i.e. construction workers live only among each other and have practically no contact to the urban community (1999:112).
On the other hand, the urban community does not seek for contact, discrimination of migrant workers by urban residents “[...] has widened the social gap between migrant workers and local residents” (Keung Wong [et al] 2007:36-37). The situation in India is somewhat different, because of a less regulated system, but labour migration increases, sometimes as a seasonal phenomenon like in the construction segment (cf. Mosse [et al] 2005:3025), sometimes for longer periods.
While the slum attracts the spectator, as a kind of spectacular cinema, because of its raw stories at the edge of existence, working migration is a more social theme with less pace in its filmic storyline. In Tamil cinema the social genre is quite popular and brings from time to time some amazing films to the movie theatres. Angaditheru (India 2010, Vasanthabalan) is one of them. It shows the problem of modern working migration in Southern India.
The film is a good example to have a close look on the sphere between urban and rural. Our article follows the question, how the city and the village can be screened, and how the cinema produces images of city, village, and the sphere in-between. Angaditheru creates pictures of an "urban monster", but also of urban reality. We look at these pictures, try to find the gaps in the images of urbanity and describe the transitions between urban and rural worlds.
|The crowded Ranganathan Street in Angaditheru (source: DVD Ayngaran)|
Angaditheru describes the hard life of villagers who are working for one of the big textile stores in T. Nagar in Chennai. Translated Angaditheru means Bazar Street, and it is really situated in the Ranganathan Street, which leads from the suburban train station Mambalam to Usman Road in Chennai. It is director Vasanthabalan's third movie. The music is composed by the well established Vijay Antony and G.V. Prakash Kumar, the nephew of A.R. Rahman, and is still popular in Tamil television. In the beginning there is a love story. Lingu (Mahesh) and Kani (Anjali) are fooling around at a bus stop. We still do not know, that their alienation to the other waiting people could be causing of the reason that they are both villagers, no, they seem to be two lovers in their own world.
|Marimuthu, Lingu and their friends in the village in Angaditheru (source: DVD Ayngaran)|
A night bus brings Lingu and Marimuthu to Chennai. The night is used for transfer and it is also a transitory time. The youth is over – now they are employees. They reach the city at Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT), the largest Bus stand in the city. Most movies uses station buildings as city-entrée, but here, unusually, the bus stand is cast as the city-marker. And this is quite near to reality in Tamil Nadu where the bus is the most important public transport system. And even later, the bus is the vehicle which brings the new staff to their new homes.
Out of the view of Lingu, we are beginning to catch first impressions of the city. And these are mostly unattractive pictures: he sees the crowded street, the poverty, the garbage. These initial impressions of Lingu are not our first glimpses of the city. We have seen Chennai already and we think to know what happen to him and Kani. Chennai is no longer a place of personal freedom and joy. We get insight of the inhuman machinery of this semi-fictional department store. Lingu and Marimuthu start their work down in the basement-warehouse where they prepare the textiles for the storage. But they are able to climb the ladder, they think they are promoted, but they come to the most dreaded supervisor of the shop: Karungali.
While the department store as a restricted zone shows no light to the future of the employees, the street-life episodes in Angaditheru
interrupt the mirthless and fearful atmosphere. While one former
employee of the shop whom Lingu met at the street, with cankered legs
due to his job behind the sales counter, lies dead on the street
someday, most of the street-dweller are able to manage their life
somehow. The guy who perceive the dirty toilets in the street starts a
business with a pay-and-use toilet by cleaning it up and gets so much
money that he will come in first class suburban train coach to “his”
toilets and changes his clothes to “poor man’s working dress”. The wife
of the man of short stature who is happy that her child is also of short
stature, because no one can doubt about her fidelity. Next to real
picture interludes this and many other stories describe some kind of
These stories show us the gaps in the urban-rural dichotomy. The suicide of a female vendor in front of the staff, because her lover lied to the supervisor, that he has never loved her, brings the city life to shop. This incident causes bad publicity to the department store. The public seems to catch interest in the conditions of the shop. Thus, the owner forbids any relationship between men and women. But there are more openings in the system: the appearing of movie superstar Sneha (cameo) for a commercial video for the department store is the turning point for Lingu and Marimuthu. While Lingu expresses his love to Kani in a song-and-dance scene and get fired because they were filmed by the CCTV in the night, Marimuthu seizes his chance as fan of Sneha and gets the possibility to work for her as an assistant. And, when Kani’s little sister, who works for a family in Chennai, matured, they have to make the ritual for her. They caught the breeze of the city which Lingu wants to follow with his lover.
|Lingu is selling Saris in Angaditheru (source: DVD Ayngaran)|
The city is for most rural villagers a place of hope, while the
village is for many urban villagers – as the place of origin – mystified
and glorified as a fragment mémoire of a better world (cf. Prassad 2004:98). Film as a transitory media shows transient pictures.
The question is, which cinematic techniques are used to show the transitions between urban and rural. Here, a kind of sphere in-between exists and is tangible for the spectator. First, there are vehicles, crossing the border, to cover a distance. In Angaditheru the protagonist uses a bus to come from his village to the city. In Tamil Nadu, it is a common vehicle for transportation. Individual cars are not common, these are mostly been used by city-dwellers, sometimes when they come to the countryside. The train is also a favourite to cross the border. The station is the entrance to a new world, but mainly not the platform of transition itself. The city station is an urban space par excellence with its many tracks, the crowded platforms, and its atmosphere. In contrast, the village station lacks of these images even if it is busy.
Another technique is, to use flash backs like in Angaditheru. When Lingu tells Kani about his first love, we can see his trip down memory lane on the screen. And even Kani’s love experience is shown as a flashback. The memory is transferred to an image like in Wim Wenders Until the end of the World (Germany 1991, Wenders), where memories and dreams are materialised with a machine which is, in reality, the cinema. The memory itself is a medium of transition. The body still rests in the city, but the mind explores the rural life. And when Lingu realises that he is in love with Kani, a song and dance scene appears. It brings us to a fictive place, a mystified village, where he imagines a life together with her.
|Lingu dreams of a life with Kani in his village in Angaditheru (source: DVD Ayngaran)|
Let’s come back to our introducing question, on how a city and a village can be screened, and how the cinema produces images of city and village, and important at all, produces images in-between. Angaditheru shows the life of villagers who come to Chennai because they have to. It presents different aspects of the city, fast cut scenes, social studies of the protagonists, and many short stories about villagers. The village appears only in flash backs. The camera angle is wide as the landscape, the environment is rural and clean in contrast to the violence and the garbage on the streets of the town.
But most important is the transition between city and rural and how the new surrounding is adopted by the villagers. When they arrive in Chennai, their way goes straight to the department store. Thereafter they have hardly the possibility to leave it. They work, sleep and eat in accommodations of the shop in a very confined area and under permanent strict control. Within this enclosed space the mofussil inhabitants out of various different villages form an own society which give them support in this strange environment. The villagers barely reach other parts of the city. Many of them relocate in the adjacent road, when they got fired or quitted work by themselves.
Only a few villagers shown in the film succeed and improve their condition by removing to better parts of the city. However, on the Ranganathan street they live similar to the circumstances in the department store. The contact to the city dwellers remains limited to selling situations. The villagers try to survive with the disposal of small goods, wherefore they continue to be dependent on the urban inhabitants. And with them their relatives in the home villages. Also our protagonists Lingu and Kani end on this street. They can control their lifes by themselves now, but in-between a city and village life. They are far away from their native villages, but they never really find access to the Chennaiites and live still among villagers. In contrast, Marimuthu is one of the few positive exceptions who managed it to enter the higher society circles by assisting the film star Sneha, but this is rather luck by chance than reality.
2. In Tamil Nadu suburban and rural areas are called mofussil. There are Mofussil Bus stands for long distance journeys and City Bus stands. Mofussil means literally the places outside the big urban centers in India.
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