In the heyday of the jute industry, millions of people in Bengal made their living doing this laborious work, which has hardly changed since the industrial revolution. The 100-year-old machinery has been endlessly repaired. State aid kept this sustainable alternative to plastic going, but its future looks bleak.
In beautifully composed shots, Nishtha Jain (Gulabi Gang , Lakshmi and Me ) shows the last vestiges of the industry. She follows the entire production chain, from cutting and drying the reed along the river to weaving in two of the biggest mills in the area. Along endless rows of antique looms, the air thick with dusty fibers, workers carry out their routine work. Accidents and jammed machines are commonplace; workers’ faces reveal the exhaustion of a lifetime of labour.
Meanwhile, the union is fighting for a minimum wage equivalent to 250 US dollars a month. During their break, the workers speak out. “Nowadays nobody cares about quality, just more production,” says one. Not long afterwards, one of the mills closes its doors after more than a hundred years.
On Nov. 15 between 14:00 and 15:00 there will be a Filmmaker Talk with Nishtha Jain in ITA: Studio 1.