L'Inde fantome (E07) Bombay
Director: Louis Malle; Cinematographer: Étienne Becker
Duration: 00:49:31; Aspect Ratio: 1.370:1; Hue: 341.160; Saturation: 0.072; Lightness: 0.317; Volume: 0.162; Cuts per Minute: 13.286; Words per Minute: 40.444
Reflections on a Journey
Wednesday, April 17.
Bombay, the end of our journey.
It's like being back in the West.
Like Calcutta, Bombay is a port
built by the English for colonial needs.
Today it's the economic capital,
the city of the future.
In the suburbs here,
you feel you could be anywhere.
of low-rent apartments,
like anywhere else
in the industrialized world.
Impersonal construction sites
rise next to shantytowns
crammed with people
from all over the country.
You never get used to the poverty
in India, even after four months.
Especially in the cities,
where it shows its most terrible face.
But the villages of India,
behind their charm and beauty,
often conceal even greater
That's why many peasants,
deeply in debt or without land,
leave their villages
and come here for work.
Some leave family behind
and return home in a few years.
Others bring wife and children,
severing ties with village life forever.
Like all industrial metropolises,
Bombay has suburban trains
that transport hordes
of commuters day and night,
packed to overflowing.
Many people sleep
and eat on the streets.
There's no place for them,
because even in the shantytowns
rents are high.
Bombay no longer has rickshaws,
but goods are still transported
which are cheaper than trucks.
For those living on the street,
often without employment,
each day is a new battle.
It takes endless ingenuity
just to survive.
The numerous sidewalk vendors
are mostly southern Indians.
Craftsmen punch holes in copper
stencils for printing patterns on cloth.
One stencil is used for each color.
Certain designs call
for a dozen stencils.
These craftsmen are Muslims.
They fill an entire district,
where they ply their traditional trades
of goldsmith, potter,
decorative painter, musician.
Islamic cultural influence
dates back to the Mongolian emperors,
who ruled here before the English.
It deeply marked the architecture,
painting and music of northern India,
as well as many aspects of daily life:
Cuisine, language, clothing
Under Mongolian rule, many
lower-caste Hindus converted to Islam.
Near the Haji Ali mosque,
this woman prepares
garlands of flowers for worshippers.
When the English left in 1947,
the Muslims, concentrated
in the northwest and northeast,
separated from India
to form Pakistan.
After a period of bloody turmoil,
millions of Hindus and Sikhs
left Pakistan to seek refuge in India,
fled in the opposite direction.
Yet there are still
50 million Muslims in India today,
making it, paradoxically,
the second-largest Muslim nation.
Sometimes there are local conflicts
between religious communities,
but in general, Muslims are accepted
with remarkable tolerance.
The muezzin's call,
broadcast over a loudspeaker,
summons the faithful to prayer.
The Haji Ali mosque,
on an island 500 yards from the shore,
is cut off from land at high tide.
This ultramodern petrochemical factory
is located in Thane,
a suburb of Bombay,
in a large industrial complex.
On the other side of the bay stands
the country's first nuclear power plant.
Every sailor in the world
knows Bombay's red-light district,
just like in any European
or South American port.
But for us,
fresh from the country's interior,
this officially sanctioned prostitution
Everywhere else in India,
prostitution is secret, invisible,
like an embarrassing sore
one carefully conceals.
In many cities,
it's practically nonexistent.
The women are often very beautiful.
Most are Telugu peasants
from Andhra Pradesh.
An old man moves from room to room,
purifying with incense.
Prostitution may be accepted here,
but alcohol is not.
It's a "dry" city,
like many regions of India,
more religious than social.
The Bombay stock exchange displays
the same collective hysteria
as Paris or Milan.
Outwardly it's the same incomprehensible
frenzy and exaggerated gestures.
These men playing
at frenzied capitalist games
are still marked by tradition.
Before making a trade,
many Bombay businessmen
consult their astrologer
to see whether omens are favorable
and which astral period is best.
Industrialist Pashabhai Patel
made a fortune in farm machinery.
He's a delegate of the Swatantra,
a party of large landholders
to the right of the Congress Party,
its current opponent.
"We have 50 members
in a parliament of 450,
but many Congress Party delegates
disagree with the current government.
After coming elections, we hope to form
a right-wing majority with them.
We're fighting for free enterprise.
It's the only path
for our country's development.
about government policy
is the planned economy
it imposes on the country.
Enormous sums are invested
in state-run industries,
which all show huge deficits.
Only one was profitable this year,
earning a 1% profit,
while private business
earns as high as 20%.
The Congress Party has been
drifting towards Russia,
and that's one of the reasons
we oppose them.
To us, the Congress Party is nothing
but Communism in disguise.
I know there's more social justice
in the US than in the USSR,
though some try
to convince me otherwise.
India could make a big leap forward
if its policies were set right.
We're on the threshold
of an industrial revolution.
Twenty years from now, thanks
to our cheap and abundant labor force
and our philosophical background,
we can beat the West
just like the Japanese have."
Gigantic fortunes are being made
in India today.
For capitalists like Pashabhai Patel,
the future is bright.
But there's another side to the coin:
A total lack of social laws,
the over-exploited working masses,
and unimaginable corruption
and fiscal fraud.
The Parsi are the pioneers
of Indian capitalism.
We attended a wedding of rich Parsi,
celebrated according to the Mazdean
rite, founded by Zarathustra.
India's few hundred thousand Parsi
are concentrated in Bombay.
They came here from Persia
to escape Muslim persecution.
The Parsi don't cremate their dead.
They expose the bodies on raised
platforms called "towers of silence,"
where they're devoured by vultures.
These towers are found in gardens
in the middle of Bombay,
and entry is strictly forbidden.
This tiny community suddenly became
wealthy at the turn of the century,
in the first wave of industrialization.
The Tatas, a Parsi family,
founded India's first steelworks
and today rules
a gigantic capitalist empire.
Though at the vanguard
of modern India,
the Parsi fiercely defend
their traditions and uniqueness.
A Parsi who marries
outside the community
is immediately ostracized.
This yoga class in Bombay
might appear to carry on tradition,
but it doesn't.
Many of the students
are well-heeled Parsi,
as foreign to the philosophy
of yoga as the French.
Strangely enough, the wave of interest
in yoga in the West
led to a somewhat spurious revival
in its country of origin.
There's a new nostalgia
for the past.
Bombay's bourgeois will discuss
the evils of consumerism with you.
This yoga master, who asks his students
to "measure the immeasurable,"
spends several months a year
where he is Yehudi Menuhin's
On a downtown street,
a police instructor teaches a young
recruit the ritual of directing traffic.
Indian soldiers fanatically perpetuate
the traditions of the British army.
an especially spic-and-span officer,
crop tucked under his arm
and mustache freshly waxed,
told me nostalgically,
"We're the last of the true English.
There are no more in England."
The ultimate in Westernization:
India today has
its own left-wing intellectuals.
Vinayak Purohit lives in a beautiful
house filled with books and art.
His wife is rich. He belongs to the SSP,
one of four Socialist parties.
When we interviewed him, he'd just
finished writing a play on the revolution.
"Don't think I'm exaggerating
when I say there are foreign powers
who will stop at nothing
to destroy India's unity.
India has the potential to be
a major power in this part of the world,
so they seek to divide it."
To him, whether it's China, America, or
England, everyone's out to get India.
This socialist intellectual
pushes fervent patriotism
to ridiculous extremes.
with the border of Pakistan.
Pakistan is his pet peeve.
"Giving up even a small part of India
threatens the entire country.
We must stop this policy
of appeasing the aggressor.
What is Pakistan?
A puppet country
invented by imperialist powers
to set up their military bases
on the Indian border."
This extreme nationalism
is found in many Indian politicians
on both the right and left.
They criticize the government
for its "weakness" towards Pakistan.
In this modern textile mill
with Swiss machinery,
the emphasis is on efficiency
It's highly automated,
with relatively few workers.
The management takes
for training its workers.
Unions don't exist.
These workers, still attached
to the past by religion and caste,
have no class consciousness as yet.
Near Bombay, a brand-new factory
builds jeeps under American license.
It was meant to produce 25 a day -
nothing for a country like India -
but it was reduced to 17
after army budget cuts.
India has insufficient cars.
It produced only
60,000 cars and trucks last year.
To obtain a car for private use,
you must be on a waiting list
for seven to 10 years.
The May Day parade of Left Communists
only drew a few hundred people,
despite all the party's efforts
after suffering a crushing defeat
in local elections.
Communists don't play as important
a role in India as we'd expect,
because they're divided,
they hesitate between reform
and their ideology is antithetical
to traditional Indian thought.
Many of them, formed in the ranks
of the English Communist Party
following strictly Marxist ideology,
seem to be waiting for the complete
industrialization of the country to act.
What they lack is a Mao Tse-tung,
someone to adapt
Marxism and Leninism
to the specific conditions in India.
Days earlier we'd filmed
these same musicians and dancers
at a Congress Party demonstration,
where the parade
was over a mile long.
The Congress Party
is very powerful in Bombay.
The Congress Party, despite recent
defeats, still dominates politics.
It may be its own worst enemy.
It's currently caught in a violent
power struggle between factions
that began after Nehru's death.
a democratic socialist regime,
a happy medium between
planned economy and private property.
His daughter, Indira Gandhi,
currently prime minister,
has trouble following
this political agenda.
Many of her party's leaders
declare themselves right-wing
and represent the interests
of the new classes of rich peasants,
retailers and manufacturers.
A new political force celebrates
its victory in local elections:
an extreme right-wing movement
serving purely local interests.
It expresses native Bombay residents'
desire to defend themselves
against the invasion
by immigrants from southern India,
who are both despised and feared.
Shiv Sena is a mass movement
and claims 500,000 members.
Its slogans are racist and xenophobic.
This man, Bal Thackery,
is Shiv Sena's founder.
A former cartoon artist,
he's a remarkable orator,
mixing cynical humor and demagogy.
In this speech, he attacks Bombay's
Muslim community for the first time
in violent terms.
"If Muslims aren't happy,
let them go to Pakistan.
We gave them their own country.
Let them go and leave us alone."
I interviewed him the next day.
He eagerly defended his cause.
"People living in a particular state
must get a preference.
I see nothing wrong with that.
If people from here can't find jobs
or housing, where can they go?"
Thackery favors a strong government.
"Ruling with a firm hand
doesn't mean dictatorship.
I'm not talking about dictatorship,
just keeping the people in line.
We need order in this country.
Yes, I'm anti-Communist.
If Communists took power tomorrow,
I'd be the first to fight them.
I'm not hunting for power.
These people should have preference.
Their rights should be respected.
I'm fighting for justice, nothing else.
was there before us.
It would be wrong to attribute
it to Shiv Sena.
There might have been
individual actions here and there,
but don't blame
our organization for that."
Despite what Thackery says,
new immigrants crammed
into shantytowns like this
are victims of systematic violence
from Shiv Sena activists.
These southern Indians are Catholics
from the state of Madras.
They don't speak the same language
as the other inhabitants.
They're marginalized, unorganized,
The reasons for these conflicts
are essentially economic.
We spoke with Rajani Desai,
an economist with an Oxford degree.
and speaks of her country
with a kind of scientific detachment.
"There is American influence,
but it's limited.
Foreign businesses here
don't directly influence Indian politics.
their governments to do it.
Our weakness isn't that they're here,
but that we need them here.
We need their raw materials
So they can impose their terms.
India is socialist in that the government
tries to structure the economy,
and capitalist in that businesses
are allowed to develop freely
within the government's framework.
Are we badly administered?
Yes, we are.
Nothing can be done at this time.
in such a stratified society,
with such a small elite,
one has every reason to act
in one's own interests.
And this is what is done."
What are the reasons
behind the economic crisis?
"Mainly the failure of the monsoons
in the last two years.
The drought caused poor harvests,
and since the economy is mainly
agricultural, grain prices rose.
This was taken as a signal to curb
investment, and that led to recession.
We've stepped up grain production.
We still need 15 million more tons
a year, but we'll make it.
There's a new generation
of capitalist farmers
who use modern methods
and have investment capital.
They've been very successful.
But we can't expect this to happen
all over the country.
There are so many peasants
and so little arable land
that industrialization is necessary,
if only to absorb
some of the excess rural population."
This beautiful young woman
who speaks like a technocrat
is a living example
of Westernized India.
But she only represents
a microscopic minority.
An Indian friend told me of a village
35 miles from Bombay
where the people weren't even aware
the English had left.
After two weeks in Bombay,
we wanted to immerse ourselves
in traditional India one last time.
A few miles from the city,
a small village called Vrajeshwari
its annual temple festival.
This crowd swept up
in religious fervor
is the image I'll keep of India.
Everywhere in the world,
and erases tradition.
Our world is becoming
the same everywhere.
But India resists,
for its social and religious structures
are stronger and more vital
than anywhere else.
In the temple courtyard,
families from the entire region
have come to stay for several days.
We come upon a marriage procession.
We're leaving for Bombay,
it's our last day of shooting,
and we think these will be
our last images of India.
But India will prove us wrong
On our way back,
we came across these salt flats.
In India, we discovered with wonder
another way of being,
another way of living
and seeing the world
that made us all feel nostalgic,
like a secret forever lost.
But we felt all along it was
a world living on borrowed time.
Here, where the population is greater
than Africa and South America combined,
modern life increasingly takes the form
of man exploiting his fellow man.
Translation by LYNN MASSEY
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