For civilizations to grow and prosper the divine light of modernity must fall on the chosen few. The rest who lurk in the shadows and scavenge the filth that is created by those who reside in the light must remain so. Since time immemorial this divide has propelled one generation after another. “Civilization” has reaped the fruits of its labor, alas at the cost of reducing the miserable to disposable. What a tragedy, or is it?
Into the world of misfits (Jhilli, Discards)
A major faux pas with the acceptable format of storytelling is that it never wished to transcend into the realm of truth. Rather the truth has been an optional extra. The world of glamour and glory has little time and patience for the vanquished. The truth indeed is hard to swallow especially when it is not represented by the eternal “angry young men” but rather by vagabonds and scroungers.
Precisely why it is called Jhilli (Discards) is because it is a riveting tale about those who reside in the shadows. They are forever condemned to live in the milieu of filth and sorrow. The film centers around the lives of Bokul, Ganesh, Shambhu Da, and Chompa, who reside in the dumping grounds of the metropolis. Here people try to make their living from anything they can get their hands on.
That includes anything starting from discarded objects to animal bones. The vast and never-ending land of filth and grime momentarily comes to life when these misfits search for discards that shall help them survive. But survival itself is indistinguishable from the death that awaits them. Bokul works in the dumping grounds all day and uses narcotic substances and country liquor to numb his pain.
Ganesh who wants a life outside the shadows is enterprising and street-smart. He teams up with a foul-mouthed brat called Guddu to start a small business, selling second-hand goods on the street. While Bokul sinks more into the depths of shadows Ganesh struggles to make the light it’s own. Shambhu Da, is a man who has lost all hope. He survives on a hefty dose of substances and cigarettes inching closer to death frequently declaring that he is a man of great wealth only to wither in the pain of crushing poverty.
Following the internal turmoil…
Chompa who happens to be a transgender individual is a discard amongst the discards. She is frequently harassed by friends and foes alike for amusement. The society that has forsaken certain individuals. It has condemned them to live in the excrement of civilization and has no place or acceptance for such an imperfect being. There is plight but there’s also jubilation, the oneness that each of them has with each other.
While there is plight and sorrow, there is also a sense of belonging that can’t be found anywhere else. For nothing about Jhilli is unreal. The fact that there are those amongst us who have been deprived of identity and denied access to the basic amenities of life. Jhilli is a film where the characters do not have the privilege to seek who they are. Rather, they just wish to survive.
The fact Bokul cannot escape the bone factory and must work to survive. When the time comes he must perish alone. The fact that he must find solace within the carcasses of dead animals. The fact all his queries and complaints will fall on deaf ears. Ganesh still has to journey alone and do everything in his power to get out of the shadows and snatch his place under the sun.
Shambhu Da already has drowned in the shade of depression and probably will never get out of it. The illusion of money and job created by strange narcotics and the never-ending cutthroat nature of the metropolis have no place for him. And the already discarded Chompa will be harassed till death. The entirety of the narrative deals with the inability of these people to gain acceptance from those who reap the “fruits of their labor”.
An ever-expanding fault line
The director Ishaan Ghose has minutely designed the fault lines in his film and has presented the reality as it is. The dumping grounds serve as a constant reminder to those of us about the unfortunate misfits who have been forsaken and abandoned. They are humiliated each day and dehumanized for the sake of development. Do they even have rights? If so, why must it be that people like them must lose their land and reside in the filth generated by the privileged?
There is a fault line within the shadows that has pitched one class against another. Bulldozers against skeletal life forms. The dream of residing in the lavish and extravagant comfort of Trump Towers against the basic amenities of life. The irony is that these people will always be abandoned in their pursuit of happiness. The illusion of being happy comes from comfort, and how does one generate happiness without comfort?
Perhaps here one may invoke the spirit of Diogenes. Someone who believed that humans should be governed by their natural instincts rather than their cultivated behavior. The only problem is philosophers around the world have failed to understand poverty and disgust altogether. Flimsy notions have been constructed to make it look ascetic. This is what creates the fault lines in the first place. The matter of poverty is simply tolerated from the perspective of privilege.
One may disagree but the world has changed a lot in terms of the “fluidity of the capital”. Capitalism now is not just limited to the banks or old treaties like “Wealth of Nations”. Rather it is broader. If one may pardon the expression, “unforgiving” modern slavery is not exercised through chains. Rather these people who live and die each day have been successfully discarded by the state itself.
The politics of poverty as explored in Jhilli (Discards) 2021
When did we become this excessively Reganist in terms of our notion of development? The answer to that is Globalization and Jhilli addresses this too. The modern necessities of a vibrant metropolis must be constructed at the cost of the underprivileged. Common sense is always at the surface level. Even though poverty has been acknowledged, the poor won’t really be accepted.
Goethe once remarked, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free”. Just like Bokul running wild under the dusk, a prisoner of his own mind insanity that demands freedom, while the microcosms of the downtrodden will fade under the mammaries of the idea of a welfare state. There’s nothing poetic when it comes to truth. What the director does is explore the fault lines as it is, and leave these people in their own lives. How odd, people born into the cradle of advanced civilizations are forced into exile in an oasis of poverty while chasing a mirage of hope.