Machines (2017) Review – A Terrific Documentation of the Human Condition

‘Poverty is harassment sir’ says one worker. These words reveal all there is to this human condition and all there ever will be. Hell, Karl Marx couldn’t have said it better if he wanted to.  Machines


And that is the very thread around which Rahul Jain has spun his documentary Machines around. He doesn’t hurl statistics at every juncture nor do any graphs materialize on the screen. The camera moves with a poise, documenting the day-to-day functioning of the textile mill, and occasionally here and there, it pauses. It then begins to document a testimonial of a worker. Questions are never posed for the workers know they have nothing worth telling nor anything that would hold people’s interests other than their sufferings. And their answers are never doubted because the eyes always tell the truth.

The tale is reiterated thrice, albeit from different perspectives: of a child full of life, of a middle-aged man rebelling against his hatred of the indignation he is subjected to and a worn out veteran of the field, living a life of conformity. This method throws light on the cycle of labour in the most elusive and ergo the most effective way possible.


It begins, like all of humanity’s greatest struggles have, with the fear of hunger which leads to children coming from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa etc. in trains so overcrowded that most of them stand without food for the entirety of the journey. After having reached here, the young are groomed and the credo indoctrinated to them gradually that work experience garnered from a young age increases the scope of their employment opportunities.

Those who join at their middle ages have somewhat the embers of dissent still alive within them and herein arises the question of a trade union. The discussion on this is underplayed with a sense of irony which predominates the totality of Machines, which has made me think more than once during its runtime that Satantango has been to Machines what The Searchers was to Taxi Driver. Take the scene where a worker who talks spiritedly about the wage rate issue and about the power of the workers pauses in between, looks around and then continues with a greater elan, having ensured that no one connected to the bosses is around to hold witness for his words.

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In a 12 hour shift which pays them 3 dollars for every one of them, the movie asks when do the workers even have the time or the energy to raise their voices? The head of the mill, in whose interview Jain ingeniously lets the camera run on as he quibbles his theories on productivity which gradually reveals the inner vileness concealed, he states implicitly that keeping workers with no savings is precisely why the industry works. Has Adorno’s statement that ‘Proletarian language is dictated by hunger. The poor chew words to fill their bellies’ ever rung truer?

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I feel the sense of irony in Machines has to be recapitulated. See how the interview to the head of the mill is cut to right after workers express their befuddlement about hating a man they have never even seen. And the scene where the workers are shown adorning the same clothes they have produced, which we know that once the shot ends they would never have the privilege to lay their hands on again. Also if you notice, many shots of the technicalities of production in the earlier parts find a second appearance towards the latter part of the film as well, as if to concoct and attribute to the process the same cyclic reality of lives that the people who materialize these processes have to face.

The biggest irony, and what could be very well be said as the ‘message’ (if that’s what you are looking for) of the film, comes in a line of the interview of the man who I quote in the beginning as well. He says ‘The only relief in my life is to realize that when I die and when the bosses die, we both go with nothing’. Maybe what Machines is really asking is that when we are all entrapped in the same cycle of life and death, what do we stand to lose for showing a bit of sympathy for those entrapped with us?

Machines won The World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival 2017.

Ever since chancing upon the realization that he came on this planet without being consulted and will leave without his consent, Anand is aspiring to be ignorant of the darkness of his existence by replacing it with the darkness of the movie theater

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