Manhole, the first Malayalam film by a female director screened in the competition section of IFFK, deals with the story of an entire section of people disowned by society.
The film talks about the everyday life of men who go inside manholes to work in it. The society isolates them and denies them dignity. While the government has already banned manual scavenging in India, there still exists a group of people who does the job. So, is it possible that thousands of dry toilets in India have been cleaning themselves?
Manhole shows how the government fails in identifying thousands of manual scavengers existing in Kerala and other parts of India and to accept them in society just like any other human being.
According to the census, even though manual scavenging is illegal in India, close to 9 lakh families rely on the job to make both ends meet. The film portrays the real life story of these alienated manual scavengers in Kerala.
Ayya Swami is a manual scavenger. His wife Pappathi is a house-maid and his daughter Shalini is a school student. Ayyan dreams of making his daughter a magistrate. He is mocked upon by society as well as his fellow community for his dream.
When Ayyan dies while working in the manhole, the family is left distraught. But Papapthi doesn’t want Shalini to let go of his dreams and encourages her to study well so that she too doesn’t get stuck with this miserable life.
Manual scavengers are ostracized by the society. Glimpses of this can be seen in Shalini’s school when she is isolated by her classmates and at Papathi’s workplace where her employer denies her child from accepting sweets from Papathi. Though the government offers Shalini a job, she is assigned the same job that her community has been doing in spite of her educational qualifications.
Against all odds, Shalini manages to keep going. She finds a job in a supermarket and juggles work and study. She also takes up the case of another manual scavenger who also died while at work. Shalini fights to get justice for him and in the process realizes how ignored they are in society.
Though the issue highlighted by the movie is very relevant, the film fails to portray the problem in its full volume. Whether the technical aspects of the film do justice to the theme is to be ascertained.
(With agency inputs)