In Anirban Datta’s documentary film Wasted, one sees poet-musician Pradeep Chatterjee roaming around Kolkata performing a sort of “abstract, absurd rap”, borrowing random words from his surroundings, from torn posters to advertisements on public transports. “It’s the way artists use junk or found material to create something new,” says Datta. The performance is taken from unused footage of one of his past works—a documentary on the history of Kolkata. By using it in Wasted, a film that questions the notion of waste in an Indian context, Datta attempts to demonstrate “creative recycling”. “I can’t give methodological, hard science solutions for waste management. As an artiste, I can look and find solution through my practices,” says Datta.
Wasted sees recycled waste as a Western concept that never existed in India’s agrarian tradition and culture, a post-colonial hangover that has plagued the present-day way of life in the country. “Ancient India believed nothing is waste. Few Indian vernaculars have a word for waste,” says the synopsis of the film. “The idea is to examine the concept of recycle vis-a-vis our culture, in search of answers,” says the 39-year-old filmmaker from Kolkata, a graduate from the Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI). The film will be screened today at Films Division of India’s FD Zone, Mumbai, alongside films that examine notions of cleanliness and waste in our cities.
To explore the subject, and give it a larger, philosophical overview, Datta’s camera travels to the places where the country’s waste accumulate: from the ghats of Varanasi, where sewage, industrial waste and religious offerings are dumped into the Ganga, to Delhi’s Mayapuri, home to Asia’s largest scrap market. He meets an environmentalist, the head of Varanasi’s cremator community and also visits Prayag’s Kumbh Mela to complete the funeral tradition after the passing of a dear friend. Through the meetings and visits, Datta explores the Hindu philosophical implications of life, death and rebirth, drawing parallels with ancient India’s approach to waste, and how modern industrial excess doesn’t fit into the cycle.
“As an agrarian race, we have the habit of dumping our excesses in our backyard. So we treat industrial waste the same way and don’t know how to deal with it,” he says. The ubiquitous plastic bag floating in the air or amid garbage becomes a motif in the film, that is either left in the river and pollutesthe soil.
From his earlier documentaries, such as the one with Chatterjee, which have thematic resonances with this subject, Datta uses unused footage to broaden the perspective over waste. In portions from his 2008 film, titled .in For Motion, for example, he links the crisis to how India’s “real industrial revolution”— the promising homegrown industrial wave in the ’70s — was killed, and replaced by economic liberalisation and IT boom. The film implies that waste is a product of this borrowed industrial system of the West.
Datta claims that Wasted’s political statement — how industrial waste is used as “a currency of development” across the world — is also a reason why the film has been snubbed at big documentary film festivals such as Mumbai International Film Festivals (MIFF), that go after “burning issues rather than cinematic exploration of subjects”.
The 52-minute film, commissioned by the Public Service Broadcast Trust, was ready by early 2012. The film won special jury John Abraham award at the Signs film festival, Kerala, was screened in a competition at Astra Film Festival Romania in 2013 and at the Bangladesh Short Film Forum. It was also the opening film at the recently concluded Shehernama film festival organised by Films Division, India.