Filmmaker Natasha Raheja traces the origin of New York City’s famous manhole covers back to Howrah, India. In her film Cast in India, she goes inside one of Howrah’s factories to glimpse the people behind the covers’ creation. I spoke with her about the project.
How did you come across this subject?
Manhole covers are an iconic and ubiquitous part of New York City’s urban landscape. While on a stroll along the city streets one day, I noticed that many of the manhole covers have the words “Made in India” boldly emblazoned on them. I became curious about how these pieces of city anatomy are made. I wanted to learn more about the labor infrastructure concealed in the built infrastructure of our cities.
What would you like your audience to take away from the piece?
Cast in India raises questions around the disparate conditions that shape the geographies of production and consumption of everyday urban objects. Amidst this, I hope viewers recognize the dignity and skill of the foundry workers. The film also makes me think about how the mobility of workers compares to the mobility of the goods that they make. Enlivening the objects around us, the film also points to questions around the entrenched structures and conventions that obscure people and relations from our purview.
Why did you choose the cinema verité approach for your documentary?
My presence in the film is certainly implicit, but my approach in this film is more observational than provocative. I wanted to avoid speaking for the workers and chose to employ a style that foregrounds presence over explanation and feeling over interpretation. I aimed to build an immersive viewing experience. As an anthropologist it was also important for me to convey a shared time and space.
Do you have plans for a follow up piece?
I’m working on circulating the piece more widely and am hoping to develop an accompanying study/discussion guide. I have a few other projects in the works.
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