Film on Indian economy shatters dreams, hopes

by AFP/Palash Kumar, Jan 26, 2003 | Destinations: India / New Delhi

The underbelly of the new Indian economy "stumbles" out from the screen and stares starkly at you: where did your money go?

"Stumble", representing a fresh new wave of English films by Indian directors, was recently shown in New Delhi on the sidelines of a conference of overseas Indians and was also the opening film at the Bombay International Film Festival last month.

Set for worldwide release early in February, the film is the debut venture of southern director Prakash Belawadi who has about 25 years experience in Bangalore's theatre scene. It touches on the sensitive theme of the woes of a middle class family caught in the quagmire of the new Indian economy pulled and pushed by the global recession.

"I see it as the great rip-off of the Indian middle class by the new economy," Belawadi said. "For them, savings are the most crucial issue but with interest rates dropping, stock markets collapsing, there is no security of savings in the country. Coupled with this, the dotcom boom turned out to be one of the greatest mockeries of the new economy. This film is about how one nuclear family trips over money."

"Stumble" revolves around Anand Rao and his nuclear family. Rao chucks his bank job at the prime of his career and puts his life's savings in mutual fund schemes -- only to end up losing it all. His bitterness and depression are evident in his behaviour at home. His daughter Madhu, meanwhile, gets laid off from a software company run by a shrewd entrepreneur.

The family's troubles deepen when the son also loses his job in the United States but keeps it a secret from his doting father. Mother Nandini now worries day and night about the disintegrating family. Survival tactics hinge on political corruption, corporate crookery and sexist attitudes.

Belawadi, a trained software programmer and mechanical engineer turned film director, said everything depicted in the movie has already happened to "people like you and me". "The UTI mutual fund collapsed, the dotcom bubble burst, the savings rates plummeted, the stock market is now a big scam, so where and how does an average middle class Indian family make money?"

UTI or Unit Trust of India, the country's largest mutual fund with assets valued at 20 billion dollars, shocked thousands of small investors last July when it froze redemptions from its flagship US64 after being hit by redemption pressure following a stock market scam.

The IT revolution that began in 1996 in the southern Bangalore city, where the film was shot, experienced a 50 percent annual growth rate at the onset which has now tumbled to 20 percent. Known as the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore is home to more than 100,000 software code writers and engineers and accounts for about a fourth of India's software exports of eight billion dollars in 2000-2001. However, lay-offs have become common and no new jobs are being created.

Similarly, the savings rate has gone down from 12 percent five years ago to seven today.

India's economy, which started on the path of liberalisation 10 years ago, grew by 5.4 percent in the fiscal year ended March 2002, far lower than the seven percent growth achieved in the mid-nineties after the 1991 liberalisation. The government's privatisation drive, meanwhile, has so far raised only 50 billion rupees (one billion dollars) against its targetted 120 billion rupees.

An exasperated Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie told reporters in Bangalore on Friday that targets were meaningless if a consensus on privatisation was not achieved. "In India everything can be tripped at anytime. How can all things go well. There will be public interest litigation (or) a strike. If everybody keeps on obstructing, how can there be a target?" Shourie asked.

This exasperation, Belawadi said, is what his film was projecting. "I believe we have for the first time talked about something that will be understood and felt universally. The pain is not just Indian, it's global," he said.

As in reel life, in real life too, Belawadi and his small production unit is feeling the pinch of the vagaries of the new economy. "We've made this film which we think is very contemporary and should do well," the film's executive producer Tushita Patel said. "But it's really hard selling a film like this. The film industry, too, has felt the pinch. Of the 300 odd films last year, only two were hits. It's an uphill task selling something like this," she said.

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