PIED PIPERS

THE RAT RACE

Tehelka - - SPOILERS AHEAD - SUS­MITA SAHA

DI­REC­TOR MIRIAM CHANDY ME­NACHERRY

“You should kill them po­litely, kindly, slowly,” whis­pers Behram Harda, the su­per­vi­sor of Bri­han­mum­bai Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion’s pest con­trol depart­ment, as he drowns scores of ro­dents in a bucket of water. For­mer jour­nal­ist Miriam Chandy Me­nacherry’s first in­de­pen­dent doc­u­men­tary, The Ra­trace, is a jour­ney across ver­min-in­fested Mum­bai al­leys in the com­pany of ex­ter­mi­na­tors.

The nar­ra­tive thrust is on the lay­ered re­la­tion­ship be­tween the pest and its killer. Ro­dents are trans­fixed with a torch beam be­fore their skulls are smashed. But the film’s power lies in sto­ries that aren’t sen­sa­tion­al­ist. The killers are reg­u­lar peo­ple with prac­ti­cal ob­jec­tives. Kazi is pur­su­ing an en­gi­neer­ing de­gree and Kam­ble wants to make a movie. A drum­mer swaps notes with a dancer af­ter pick­ing up blood-splat­tered rat car­casses with his toes. There are bit­ter ex­changes about an un­likely pay hike over late night tea.

Ad­her­ing to an un­writ­ten code of in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ing, the fo­cus stays on first-hand ex­pe­ri­ences in­stead of a broader probe of the im­pacts on public health. But the un­scripted quips keep the doc­u­men­tary com­pelling, like Harda who says, “The dif­fer­ence be­tween James Bond and us is that he has a li­cence to kill hu­mans. We have one for an­i­mals.”

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