Bioscope on Urban housing in India

Film as a medium has played an important role in generating awareness on social issues. This blog is a list of films that address housing and issues related to housing infrastructure in India. It is not an exhaustive list but a short collection of films available in the public domain.

An under-construction, large scale housing project, similar to the kind found in Gurgaon.
Photograph: Gurinder Osan/Associated Press
I am Gurgaon. The new Urban India (2009) – Directed by Marije Meerman

Gurgaon is a satellite city of New Delhi, situated in the neighbouring state of Haryana. Strict controls on ownership and land-use in Delhi, coupled with Gurgaon’s proximity and connectivity to the capital, has led to large global investment.

This film is an insight into the aspirations of Gurgaon’s urban elite and their idea of an ideal lifestyle, particularly that of a ‘dream home’ — one that promises security, exclusivity and portrays a specific social identity among homogeneous members of this strata of society. This aspiration is represented through a distinct architectural typology —  the ‘gated community’.

A ‘gated community’ by definition is a housing project that is independent from the rest of the urban grain by a compound wall and gate, with many amenities normally present within a conventional neighbourhood available to residents inside the wall. 

Through the film Meerman develops a nuanced narrative on how in a developer-driven urban context, the city of Gurgaon, has favoured infrastructure for a fragment of its society. It highlights how citizens of the same socio-economic strata invest in creating walled residential housing. This form of development has led to vast disparity, where a minority of the society has benefited from opulent living conditions, and at the same time, uninhabitable conditions for the household help, nannies, security, etc. 

In this 48 minute film, the director tries to highlight how, privatisation of the city creates unfortunate divides between the private and public domain, this process eradicates the sense of community and inculcates divisions that lead to inequality.

A still from the film ‘State of Housing’ showing the vast disparity in the landscape of urban housing in India
State of Housing in India (2018)  –  Directed by Sanjiv Shah

The 40 minute film reviews the current housing crisis in India and makes apparent that a large proportion of India’s population is homeless, displaced, or resides in inadequate housing. It stresses on the major factors that lead to displacement, using statistical data to create a concise, yet comprehensive understanding of the situation.

The ‘State of Housing’ exhibition for which this film was made, was the first major exhibition focused on housing as policy. Through a series of interviews, Shah attempts to shed light on the plight of poor and displaced citizens who migrate to cities to find temporary relief, with a hope for better and more sustainable living conditions.

An interview that touched us is of social activist Manoranjan Byapari, a former Bangladeshi refugee who now resides in Kolkata. Byapari’s perspective of a home is that of ownership, to him living in a flat or living as an immigrant does not quantify a home. A plot of his own — one where the land, people, the environment and culture all connect is one where he can feel secure and safe and call his own.

Shah’s film is interesting because it not only situates the problem, but also presents the work of a few architects, designers and social workers from diverse parts of India, who are working to improve the state of housing in their cities.

Stills from the film- Vertical City

Vertical City (2011) – Directed and filmed by Avijit Mukul Kishore

This 34 minute film attempts to provide a visual narrative of an architectural typology which has emerged as the ideal housing model for slum rehabilitation in India. 

The narrative is told through the story of a community who find themselves “rehabilitated” from a slum, out to a high rise housing project far away, accompanied by assurances of better living conditions. Most members of this community live in joint families and earn around ₹4,000 a month, they are unable to make ends meet and the infrastructure of the “rehabilitation apartment” begins to deteriorate.

Through interviews, Kishore presents the voices of experts, activists, architects and authorities. Each give their opinion on slum rehabilitation, government policies and the ground reality. There is a specific focus on the apathy of the state, when it comes to providing adequate living conditions to its poor and vulnerable. These voices are narrated as the camera flies over the abysmal living condition in the slum rehabilitation apartments, the infrastructure is incomplete, with dingy corridors, facilities that do not work, unplanned services and a dearth of spaces for social and community interaction.

Stills from the film highlighting the characteristic elements slum rehabilitation housing