Film Aghaat & Notalgia About Trade Union Mvt in Bombay

Released in 1985, directed by Govind Nihalini, and written by Vijay Tendulkar, Aghaat is a brilliant fictional documentation of the vibrant trade union/working class movement in the pre-liberalisation period of Mumbai. The story is motivated by the internal debates of ideologies and strategies that the TU movement was grappling at that time. It has a brilliant caste of Om Puri, KK and MK Raina, a brief appearance of Naseeruddin Shah at the end, young Pankaj Kapoor, Amrish Puri, Deepa Sahi, Sadashiv Amrapurkar and many others. The story is about a principled left leader Madhav (Om Puri) and his comrades who control the Shivalik Industries trade union. They are challenged by another faction led by Rustam Patel and his henchman Krishnan who are trying to capture the union by the lure of better bonuses, wage hike and by intimidating other left unions and management. Without being overtly rhetorical the film raises questions of militancy, limits of violence as a strategy, wage hike versus job security and safer working conditions for labour, ideology versus instrumentality and gender issues. The class dilemmas of the good hearted management staff that sympathise with the workers struggle versus their duty to be loyal to the company.
Naseer’s character is clearly inspired by the well-known trade unionist Datta Samant. A Konkani, Samant was a a qualified doctor who started his practice in Ghatkopar and came in contact with mill workers. He got the nickname of Doctorsahab and soon led the Congress-affiliated union INTUC. They competed with the left union like CITU at a time when Bombay had nearly half a million mill workers. During the emergency Samant was arrested by Indira Gandhi and on his release continued to hold sway over the working classes. He contested the 1984 election as an independent from one the Bombay Lok Sabha constituency. He was a rare candidate to have won during the Rajiv Gandhi wave elections. Known for his muscle power, he was murdered by the underworld in 1997. By then he had lost his following and charisma. Like it used Samant and dumped him, Congress later patronised the Shiv Sena. We know what happened after that.
Samant’s activism in many ways ran parallel with the other charismatic union leader George Fernandes, who led that famous, Railway strike in 1974. He too was arrested during the emergency and on his release shifted his politics to Bihar and won many elections from there.
Bombay also saw the unique experiment of the Kamani Tubes Industries. Led by trade unionist D Thankappan, some 500 workers formed a cooperative took over the ownership if the company by acquiring 90 per cent shares for Rs 2000 each. Interestingly, this company was later taken over by a Dalit woman, Kalpana Saroj, who came from a humble slum background. She could do that because she had the backing land mafia and influential politicians.
Another brilliant film that captures the lives of mill workers after they were shut is a documentary called Jari-Mari, by Surabhi Sharma. Through her films she has brilliantly documented the everyday lives of the working class through interviews and music.

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