Friday, June 5, 2015

Documentary: Unravel

"You tend to get dressed for other people.
But at the end of the day you'll be as beautiful as God made you.
All people have a natural beauty."

Unravel is a short documentary produced and directed by Meghna Gupta about the garment recyclers in Northern India. The unwanted and discarded clothing from Western countries is shipped to Panipat, the only city in the world that takes this clothing and is recycled. But more interesting than that are the people of Panipat whose only knowledge about Westerners comes from watching The Discovery Channel.

The documentary is approximately fourteen minutes long and follows the clothes as they arrive in large shipping containers in the Kutch District, Western India. From there the containers are taken through Customs and then to a warehouse where all the clothes are slashed so they are not resold. The clothing is then driven 719 miles to the northern city of Panipat where the garments are further broken down, put through various machinery to be made into thread and then into blankets.

What stands out though in the film is how little the garment workers, who are mostly women, in Kutch and Panipat know about Western culture and the inferences they make about Westerners based on the clothing they see come through their warehouses. Some of the clothes are extremely large, others very new or very scant. One woman holds up a one piece bathing suit and is amazed that this is the entire outfit. Some of the clothing, like a white wedding dress is just too intriguing not to be tried on. Other garments are beautiful but too immodest to be considered wearable.

Based on the clothing they see, the garment slashers in Kutch assume that Westerners are very wealthy, cannot wash their clothes because water must be very costly or simply don't like to wash their clothing. One woman states that they believe there is a water shortage in the West. In Panipat, Reshma and the other garment workers muse about the clothing they find in the bundles. Here the women remove the buttons and zippers from all the clothing and further break down the pieces where they are sent to the Rag Machine and then to the Teaser Machine. From there everything goes to the Card Machine and then to the Spinning Frame which turns the fibre into rolls of yarn.

Sorting through mounds of Western clothing. Image Soul Rebel Films.
Several things stand out from this short. First and foremost was the beautiful clothing the garment recyclers themselves wore; sari's of deep reds and oranges, pale yellows and rich blues and greens, often embellished with decorations and embroidery. Secondly their happy dispositions and industriousness remarkably contrast the hard work and dusty warehouses. Thirdly, the sheer volume of clothing that passes through the factories - a nod to the extreme consumerism of the Western world and its obsession with clothing. The quote at the top of the page is from Reshma's husband. If only westerners would take his wisdom to heart.

Unravel has won numerous awards from many film festivals. It's a window into a world most Westerners do not know exists. And if you've ever wondered where all that terrible clothing from Walmart goes, well now you know.

To watch the entire short documentary check out Aeon Video

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