'Lathe Joshi': The fight to stay relevant is the order of the day

lathe-joshi A scene from 'Lathe Joshi'

With a small bucket in his hand, the sacred thread wrapped around his ear and lost in thoughts, Vijay Joshi (Chittaranjan Giri) is headed down the stairs of his first floor house in the tenement for morning ablutions. He is still midway when the camera pans out to the door of the toilet, and back to him. Before he realises, a younger man has already run towards the toilet, surpassing him. A disheartened Joshi has only found a little solace to see an older man coming from the opposite direction with a bucket when his disabled, blind mother (Seva Chouhan) calls out to him to take her to the toilet too.

The day has just begun, and so has the mad race. Everyone is busy outdoing the other. This scene in the Marathi film Lathe Joshi features four people in different stages of life, struggling, in a tenement of many families, with one toilet. “I have been a part of the vada [tenement] structure. There’s only one toilet and many families. Everyone has to go finish the business. I wanted to show the competitiveness that begins early on in the day,” said director Mangesh Joshi, after Lathe Joshi's screening as part of Mumbai Academy of Moving Image’s (MAMI) Alumni Screenings. The film premiered at the 2016 edition of MAMI in the India Story section.

The film revolves around lathe worker Vijay Joshi, often addressed Lathe Joshi by his boss, who loses his job to automation. After working on the machine for 35 years, creating pistons that anyone can vouch for, he is suddenly struggling with an identity crisis.

Mumbai has been soaked in incessant rains over the last few days. The film is not being screened in the Western suburbs, the popular abode of film buffs, but in Lower Parel; yet there is a good turnout. It is either the unflinching spirit of the city, or the good word-of-mouth about the film over the last two years from its rounds at multiple film festivals. The film will now release in theatres on July 13.

The reason doesn’t matter; the filmmaker is happy that people came. It is humbling, he said as modestly as he answered every question of the audience, sometimes with a dash of humour. Was there ever a pressure on him from producers to keep the story a certain way for mainstream appeal? “Fortunately, I am the producer of the film. So, I only had to convince myself,” he quipped.

Over the last few years, Marathi cinema has been witnessing a new wave of change driven by realistic films. While films like Sairat, Court, Killa, Natsamrat among others, are disturbingly melancholic, others like Elizabeth Ekadashi for instance, while dealing with the veracity of life, have also been light-hearted. Lathe Joshi could have swung either way. The man of the house has lost his job. While the film gives one enough opportunity to ponder over Lathe Joshi’s constant fight to find his identity and place in a world that is upgrading itself in the blink-of-an-eye, it never loses its intrinsic humour.

When unemployed Lathe Joshi, who hardly speaks, is consumed in his thoughts of losing his identity to a machine that is faster and more efficient than him, his wife (Ashwini Giri) is busy with her home-run catering business that is growing. Initially, she is hesitant to let go of her old, worn-out mixer-grinder for a new food processor, but she embraces upgradation on the insistence of their son, Dinesh (Om Bhutkar). He, too, has a home-run tech service centre that except for a few setbacks because of advances in technology, is on an upswing as well. And Joshi's mother,confined to her bed, is a serial addict who has fallen prey to technology, too. Perhaps, that’s why when she chants with beads, she needs assistance from an audio player playing the mantras.

Mangesh Joshi | via Facebook Mangesh Joshi | via Facebook

As he tries to regain his identity by pursuing every means to get his lathe machine back, Vijay Joshi becomes both a spectator and a victim of changing times and globalisation. Meanwhile, he tries to assist his wife in her business, listen to his mother’s words of wisdom, and even seeks help from his son. “Everything that you see in the film is inspired from incidents that have happened around me, sometimes even in my house. I observe a lot. For me, it was not very difficult to create the characters. Everyone is wanting to upgrade. And that’s what I wanted to show,” said Mangesh.

The film, through all its characters, subtly raises an imperative issue of a world that is moving towards mechanisation and is being run by technology. Empathy is the key (element), said Mangesh. That’s what he felt for his main character who couldn’t or probably didn’t want to upgrade himself. “There are so many people who feel left out because of the (constant) change in technology. It’s very difficult, for everybody, even a 25-year-old software engineer to adapt to the changing technology.”

Mangesh spoke of a screening of the film recently at Infosys where young employees shared their constant struggle to keep up with the changing times; some have even been laid off. “You have to think about those people. They might be the next Lathe Joshi,” he said after the screening. The idea, he recalled, was conceived when he was making his first film, He (Bhojpuri), that was shot on celluloid. “Negative cutter was a very important part of filmmaking that time. When the digital revolution happened, I thought about the negative cutters in the film labs. I wanted to make the film on a negative cutter, but then realisation struck and I thought a negative cutter may be an alien concept for the common people.”

An engineering graduate, 35-year-old Mangesh has worked on lathe machines himself during his college days. While helping a friend on a project, he revisited a factory where manually-run lathe machines were an important part and heard about them being replaced by newer, advanced machines that may not need humans to operate it. “I was not good at lathe machines, but I saw people working on it and thought it was very artistic,” he recalled. He had got a protagonist for his film. He went and met many lathe workers to understand the psychology. “Everyone had a story and I picked something from each of them.”

The film’s journey at the festivals has been wonderful, he said. It has been to some of the most prestigious national and international film festivals like Cine Pobre (Mexico), Dharamshala International Film Festival, Johannesburg International Film Festival, Museum of the Moving Image (New York) and European Film Festival (Russia). The film bagged the award for the best Marathi film at Pune International Film Festival and the Zee Chitra Gaurav ecently. But like every filmmaker, Mangesh too wants the film to release in theatres and is happy that it’s happening soon. He wants the film to be watched by as many people possible. After all, “theatre is where you find the real audience”.