Sunday, 1 February 2015

Documentary Diaries #2 Madeira and Co. Undertakers

On 28th Janurary 2015 NN, D Jeet and i decided to go on a secret recce without letting the rest of the crew or the institute know. People were still secretly gleeful that D Jeet and i had parted ways. I thought of not letting them down. NN and i left the institute in the morning and D was to meet us at Chandni metro station. What i remember the most about that day is the pain. My injured muscle was aching like crazy throughout the earlier week and i was taking pain killers. The medicine course of five days was over and i was hoping that everything would be back to normal. But an hour after waking up that day and trying to walk without pain killers i realized it was impossible. By the time i met D and we were close to Bow Barracks NN offered to get me my pills. She asked for the 'lady who deals with dead bodies' around and we were led to our subject of documentary project, Florence Madeira and her business enterprise called 'Madeira Undertakers and Co.'

Madeira and Co. Undertakers is one of the only two places in Kolkata which offers the service of storing dead bodies. Death is all about who the dead leave behind. It is never about the dead themselves. The burial or cremation will have to be stalled for some days if there is a relative living far away. In death, most people are not near the most loved ones. [I don't know if that is good or bad. From my own experience i thought it was better that we were far from love at the time of death. It's called escapism]. So people wait for them to reach the place of burial or cremation. Last time we were there the family was tamilians settled in Kolkata. They had to store the body for a night because someone from Chennai had to reach Kolkata. Florence Madeira recounted times when there were people who wanted to take the body abroad. They had stored bodies for as long as a month sometimes.

The building was quintessentially north kolkatan. Dull, damp, deep and sad. The ground floor functioned as the body storing, dressing place and the family lived upstairs. It was crowded when we walked in around noon. When i referred to the places as s dookaan (shop) Florence was quick to correct me 'It's a service. You can't call it a dookaan'. She asked us to return in the evening. We spent a little time in the place looking around and imagining visuals, sounds etc. All three of us were forming a basic treatment of the documentary in our own minds. We were hungry anyway and decided to go to Spanish Cafe in Sudder Street to brainstorm over food. Food=coffee.

There i was delighted to find that both D Jeet and NN were thinking along the same path with respect to the approach we would adopt. Some important decisions were made there. That we wouldn't shoot the face of the dead. That we would begin with a funeral. That we would end in something related to a beginning.

We wrote all our ideas on a tissue paper on the table. That was the beginning. We had no idea what was in store for us then. It was, i later learned, deadly material as far as a film maker was concerned.

We went back to Florence and she told us more about the place and the services they offered. She mentioned cases she were fighting in court for the ownership of the enterprise. She said that people didn't like her doing the job and there were many who wanted her out of the place. 'I am fighting these battles alone', she told us. She said that she had married one of the Madeiras and after his death had continued the business. She also said that she was thinking of shutting it down herself because people considered her 'unclean' and that was a problem especially when her children (a daughter and a son) were only growing up.

We sought permission to shoot her. She told us that someone was already shooting her and that she would have to ask him if it was okay for us to do it too. Both D Jeet and i felt that she was making that up. We were judging, but we are trained to judge. It's a pity. Innocence was the first thing we lost after being born. I called her at night and she told us that the 'other' film maker did not object. We were ready. For everything Madeira. 

Documentary Diaries #3: Bow Barracks' Secrets

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