The Rat Race

Posted By: Miriam Chandy Menacherry|Dated: February 1, 2012

The Rat Race, a documentary film by Miriam Chandy Menacherry, opens on the February 7th between 7pm-9pm at the NCPA as part of The Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF). Here’s a word from the director herself on why she chose to make this film and what it tell us about Mumbai – and the governing body that oversees it.

It’s a story that few Mumbaikers are aware of, beyond that one chance reference in Dhobi Ghat.

Young boys armed with torches and sticks set out every night as the city sleeps to bring back the bodies of 30 dead rats. These rat killers, recruited by the Bhiranumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), are graduates and post graduates seeking the security of government jobs. They work their way every night through garbage trails, often without gloves or even batteries for their torches. The chief narrator of the film, Behram Harda, is a 57-year-old Parsi Supervisor of B Ward (Byculla) who says he too is like James Bond because he has a “license to kill [rats].”

I chose to explore the story of Mumbai’s rat killers in order to delve into what I believe are critical issues in developing cities: livelihood, consumption and garbage accumulation. And where better to investigate these issues but in Mumbai, my home and also the growth engine of one of the fastest-growing economies of the world – a city of stark contrasts and contradictions?

In the film, as the rat killer stalks the sidewalks of Mumbai to earn his daily wage and secure a brighter future for his children, he wages the most primitive battle between man and animal with the most basic of implements. It’s an unenviable task, but one that must be done: A study by the municipality reveals that in a city of close to 14 million, there are 6 rats to every person.

But why such gruesome methods? Wouldn’t fumigation or poison be more humane? But how does one fumigate spaces swarming with rats and humanity? And how does one use poison where rodents and people forage for food?

At a time when India stands at the cusp of economic greatness, The Rat Race encapsulates the struggles, sacrifices and minor triumphs of the “other India” – the one far removed from the glitz and glamour of  TV adverts and, of course, the booming economy. It’s a tribute to the working class, the faceless, nameless multitudes who exist in the underbelly of the metropolis, eking out meagre livings and yet doing their best to make their city a better place in which to live.

It’s a complex, layered narrative that is as brutal and disturbing as it is humorous and tender. But it’s a human story that deserves to be told.

The Rat Race, a curtain raiser to the BMC elections

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is the richest Municipal body in India. While high officers occupy plush offices and positions, many of its employees work in the most abject conditions. The Rat Race interweaves the multiple stories of some of these employees – Mumbai’s night rat killers –that are employed by the BMC to control the exploding rat population in the city.

The immediate task is clear, but the aftermath is not. “But where do all the dead rats go?” is the question that the film leaves you with. The answer is one that could not be documented: When our documentary team tried to take shots of garbage grounds around the city, our camera was confiscated, the crew roughed up and the footage deleted. We approached the administration four separate times to be granted permission to shoot the Deonar dumping grounds, where the rats are disposed of with the rest of the city garbage, but permission was denied each time.

The BMC clearly does not want the public to glimpse what poses the biggest health risk to the city’s population.

Now, before the city goes to the polls, every concerned citizen must ask questions that demand accountability from an organisation funded on tax payers’ money.

Now is the time for film lovers to watch and then bring these issues into the realm of public debate so that they can become important focus points for the upcoming election – and hopefully lead to policy changes.

Read more about the film and its journey at:

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About the Author

Miriam Chandy Menacherry is an award winning documentary filmmaker and founder-director of Filament Pictures. Her latest documentary, Robot Jockey, for the National Geographic Channel, bagged the Asian Television Award for best social awareness program, 2008. Her other works include: Stuntmen of Bollywood (National Geographic) and Back to the Floor, a seven part series for BBC World that won the Indian Television Award in 2004. The Rat Race is the first film she has self funded and later crowd funded. In 2010, The Rat Race won the MIPDOC Co-Production Challenge at the Cannes International Film Festival and was supported by the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) where it had its world premiere.

The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.

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  • Rajesh Bhattad

    Such an abstract subject. Cant believe people can be so creative to tell a story of ‘a city that never sleeps’ from the perspective of a rat killer! Amazing, Creative and purposeful.

  • Euan Wilcox

    love the curtain raiser, and love to see the film 

  • Annie Chandy

    Harda is a memorable character with his never-say-die attitude. He embodies the spirit of Mumbai and India

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