Daniel Nelson



Image by Machies

That's a bleak view of life by a man who sees that life as a factory labourer tomorrow will no better than it is today, but it's a view justified by this bleak - and revealing - documentary.

Rahul Jain takes his camera into a huge textile factory in Gujarat and lets it roll. No voiceover, no dramatic music (but a hissing, clanking soundtrack), no captions. He captures a sealed, relentless, repetitive, machine-led world in which workers - including children - ceaselessly toil, sometimes yawning and almost toppling over before suddenly jerking awake.

The camera roams, fixing on various production stages: a furnace, an unending river of material being pattern-stamped, a heavy bucket of dyes being dragged along by an improvised loop of rag. The camera passes over workers crashed out, exhausted. The workers' job is to feed the beast, making sure the conveyor belts keep moving. It's rudimentary, unforgiving, brutal, dehumanising, no-frills industrialisation. Workers' safety and welfare are not part of the deal: you take it or leave it. 

An occasional brief interview cuts into the mesmerising images of labour. "When I arrive at the gate my gut tells me to turn back." "If the  workers do unite, the leader is usually killed."  “God gave us hands to work so we have to work.” The boss, predictably, sees skivers not strivers: there's no point paying more - they'll only drink it away.

The film focus is a single plant, but India's poorly regulated textile and garment industry employs an estimated 45 million workers, mostly without trade unions, and with an average daily wage of between $2 and $5.

"It is not just one factory," says Jain, "it's a civilisational structure. The systems that allow this to happen are the ones that need collective acknowledgement."

* Machines is released in cinemas on 19 May

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