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Proposal - Under the Bridge

A brief introduction (and a not-so-brief aside)

The overbridge, as any one will allow, is a distinctly urban phenomenon. They are the signs of progress, the glittering testaments of India Shining. Just as conquerors of old built roads to get to new places of conquest, overbridges have been built and now we have malls and multiplexes marching down them, waiting to take over the city, beating back the mills and the slums before them. And yet, even as this revolution rages above it, a small and interesting space has been created. It is the space under the bridge. 

This space has its own concrete canopy to rival our sky. Its climate differs significantly from our own, being several degrees cooler than the street, and several degrees warmer than air conditioned offices and homes. New and strange species of plants grow on its walls, and dust and cobwebs form their own finely patterned lattice on their roofs. Telltale cracks appear on its surfaces, cracks that will never feature in an Asian paints ad. However, the most interesting things about these spaces are the people who live in them.

Even as the march of progress displaces people, the space under the bridge has become a home for an uncanny cast of characters. A cursory glance will uncover elderly matrons chewing paan, huddled junkies sleeping in the dust, black marketers glancing shiftily around, white marketers selling their wares, children running about. There are pictures of God looking down benignly from walls, and posters of politicians waving to invisible crowds. 

In a sense, the space under the bridge is a world-within-a-world, sometimes even a world apart.

What we want to do

I hope you don’t mind that introduction. As we go along, I hope to justify its inclusion. There are three people behind this proposal- Harshad Marathe, an SYBA student at St. Xaviers, working at an Animation Studio; Pallavi Sen, an SYJC student at St. Xaviers, currently preoccupied with her board exams (but won’t have to be very soon) and me, Partho P. Chakrabartty, SYBA student at St. Xaviers. Harshad and Pallavi are prodigal artists with an enviable track record. I am a would-be writer currently plumbing the murky depths of commercial writing. Together, we want to create a Graphic Novel like no other this country has produced. 

Our Graphic Novel will be a thirty-page treatment in colour. It will be an exploration of a particular space we have decided on, the space under the overbridge just outside Dadar Station on the West side. This space has been chosen because it has a healthy population of ‘inmates’, because of its proximity to the Siddhivinayak temple, giving us insights into religious attitudes, and because it is right next to the railway station through which the maximum number of people pass in Mumbai. 

In addition to the Graphic Novel, which is an exciting form by itself, we have three additional art forms that we will include. Pallavi has an incredible sense of design which will be utilized to give us intricate poster pull-outs (one sees it in special issues of comics) that can intersperse the pages of the graphic novel, quickly condensing vital information and the feel of the atmosphere under the bridge on a single page. I will wait in that place for hours and wait till a poem (you see it now and then) or poems emerge, trying to put into rhyme or song that which cannot be satisfactorily captured by the graphic medium. Harshad, already an amateur animator, will provide flip-books (bet you haven’t seen THAT in a Graphic Novel before!) that will bring simple gestures to life. With the help of all these, we seek to enhance the entire experience of reading a graphic novel. 

Why we want to do it

Over the last decade, the gap between the Mumbai of affluence and the Mumbai of want has widened. The city is an organism, and there are a number of invisible links that tie the lives of the most affluent Mumbaikar with the people under the bridge. However, over time, as the gap between us has increased, these links have become harder to discern. Take the recent elections, for example. The NGO Agni came up with a report which can be said to represent the attitude of the educated middle class towards candidates, but the voting masses completely ignored their report, and even elected a number of people who had criminal cases against them. This is just one manifestation of the divide. The result of it is that these people have become alien to us, almost exotic. Any one who has swum across a grey street to get to a traffic island full of its naked natives knows what I speak of. Can we ever identify with or understand the little kids begging under traffic signals? They even seem to speak in different languages. 

Then there is that other problem, the problem of indifference. Have you ever caught yourself as you walk alone along a street lined with beggars? You studiously look ahead, avoiding their eyes. When they thrust themselves at you, you get irritated, troubled by their very existence. It happens to all of us. Indifference and cynicism are two ways of circumventing the problem of how to react to these people. Even so, just once in a while, we are troubled by the way these people are having to live out their lives. We are curious about what they are doing, sympathetic about their plight, maybe even willing to do something if we had the time. 

We, as artists, have often faced these ambiguous attitudes within ourselves. The aim of this project will be to push ourselves to interact with the people living under the bridge, to see if it is possible to arrive at an understanding. Most importantly though it is to provide an honest account of what happens when someone from the outside world enters this world with an intention of understanding it. It is easy to make it seem exotic, because that is the way it seems to us, but we plan to break through that tendency in us, to cut out the melodrama, and to arrive at a conception of the people under the bridge, and the validity of our own attitudes, with skill and empathy and good humour. We will battle and overcome our preconceived notions, using the knowledge we gain to battle our as well as our audiences’ dogmas and prejudices. We don’t want to look upon them as subhuman creatures, nor as the superhuman meek who will inherit the Earth, but try and arrive at honest and accurate insights. In doing so, we hope to uncover this world inside Mumbai to all the rest of us who live in the city, so that the search for what links us to them can truly begin.   

And underneath all these heavy “aims”, of course, is the fact that we love what we do- Harshad and Pallavi love to sketch, draw and paint, and I love to write (anything, even this proposal). We have also worked together previously and immensely enjoy working with each other, have an understanding of the way we function and are confident of doing justice to the project. 

How we’re going to do it

Without going heavily into technicalities, this is what we have in mind:

  1. Spend a month studying the place, making our own observations. (A small space has been chosen so that it can be studied thoroughly in this time)
  2. Conduct 30-40 paid interviews asking people to recount memorable experiences associated with living in this space, and to recount at least one incident where they were neutral observers.
  3. Take photographs of the place and derive elements of our art from them in order to hit at a sense of realism in terms of the atmosphere.

In terms of the Graphic Novel itself, we plan to use a first person narrative, honestly portraying ourselves as the lens that the viewer is viewing this reality through. The atmosphere and core of the story is going to be very real and based on our research, but the mode will obviously be stylized and enhanced so that the maximum amount of information can reach the readers, and sustain their interest. I will focus on plot arrangement, extra research, and the writing of the Graphic Novel, and Harshad will be penciller, inker, colourist all rolled into one. We will be using software (Adobe Photoshop) to enhance the images and put them onto the scheme. The size of the Graphic Novel, for the sake of printing convenience, will be A4 or smaller. Pallavi will work to get us a Cover as well as the posters and will be our consultant for design and panel arrangement. All three of us will conduct research and add our own influences and insights to the plot and the art. Since we will not really have to dictate the plot (we are going to base it on reality, and take it as it comes), and since we don’t have individual egos (like U2 we have a collective one, and that’s BIG), we will circumvent all our more artistic problems.  

As we have worked on abortive minor projects like this before and have the equipment (Harshad and Pallavi’s hands, my typing fingers, the computer, a camera, a printer - we would prefer a higher-grade scanner), the achieving of it (with the requisite funds of course) should not be a problem.