When he was fine tuning the script of his award-winning movie on marginalised conservancy workers, Dr Biju K Damodaran had an experience which shaped his film, Perariyathavar, or Names Unknown, like nothing else could.
Dr Damodaran came across a housing society in a Kerala town, where a woman had been collecting waste from 76 flats for the past two decades.
“These people woke up to this woman at their doorstep each day for 23 years, but only five flat-owners even knew her name,” said Dr Damodaran, a homeopath-turned-filmmaker.
The result of this experience was Names Unknown, a moving portrayal of the little-known lives of conservancy workers in Kerala, which went on to win two national awards.
At a time when the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has led to celebrities posing with cleaning props and many Mummbaiites taking up brooms in earnest, Names Unknown is coming to Mumbai on January 9, as part of the PVR Director’s Rare series, an initiative which showcases critically acclaimed cinema.
The movie highlights the story of a father, a temporary conservancy worker and his son in a Kerala city. Talking of the marginalisation of conservancy workers in the societal ladder, Dr Biju’s Names Unknown shows the realities that plague waste collection and management in the country.
“They are extremely marginalised as a community – they are paid little, work in unhealthy surroundings and are even considered untouchables by the society. We have a lot to introspect,” said Dr Damodaran.
While the movie revolves around the life of a widowed sweeper father and his eight-year-old son, it delves into various issues – from environmentally damaging waste management practices to land acquisition.
“Most incidents that have been shown actually occurred in various parts of Kerala. Sadly, our society, especially in Kerala, has learnt to ignore the rights of these people.”