Wealth from water

By Upala Sen
Published: Wednesday 31 March 2004

Water Business is Good Business Directed by Sanjay Barnela and Vasant Saberwal Produced by Moving Images 28 minutes

This film comes third in a series dedicated to the water concerns of India. The opening shots are of the water bottling industry. Crisp shots combine with a tripping background score to convey the rapid growth of the water bottling industry of India -- from scratch to a robust annual turnover of Rs 15,000 crore and more. The main thrust of the 28-minute documentary is this commodification of water and the benefits it accrues to a handful only. The title, in keeping with this idea, is firmly tongue-in-cheek.

The filmmakers touch upon the water situation in Mumbai and Delhi, and go on to provide a more detailed report on Chennai and Indore. The eastern part of the country is never mentioned. The film records the varying grievances of the urban population. However, it is the plight of the working class counterparts that has been captured with striking sensitivity.

The water tanker arriving in the run-down locale, the people flocking towards it like vultures for their prey, the tanker wala playing benefactor, using his discretion to distribute the water and a municipal councillor made conspicuous by his invisibility, not to mention his inaction. The camera lingers on a lone woman who has not got her due share of water. It captures the swift change in her facial expressions -- an initial hope yielding to anger, giving way to disappointment, till her eyes cloud in anticipation of future hardships.

Far away, poor villagers forego water required for irrigation purposes so that the urban rich might enjoy a rain dance and gambol in faux snow-showers. Elsewhere, pipes leak irreverently and taps continue to drip away and chief minister Sheila Dixit raises a pedicured finger in complete agreement with the sordid state of affairs. In Indore, a councillor ensures tankers reach people, but it is management by proxy, and the film captures the absurdity of one who uses his fiat with the water authorities to bureaucratic advantage. The concluding sections of the film also dwell at length on the benefits of rainwater harvesting and how it has made life easy for residents of a city like Chennai.

The film flits from issue to issue, from one situation to another: the cynic could say the research is good but the focus is missing. But the nature of the subject makes such treatment necessary. There is no monolithic context that perfectly reveals the complex politics that surrounds the availability (or not) of water. This is precisely why water is such good business

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.