2000 young men compete in tests of speed, strength and accuracy to land one of the 30 job openings for night rat killers in India's commercial capital.
The Rat Race, winds its way through the grimy underbelly of Mumbai, through dimly lit alleys, crowded markets and overflowing garbage bins, to tell the story of the city's rat killers. Through their tales of love, sacrifice and survival one glimpses the human face of development, amidst the rough and tumble of a rapidly changing metropolis.
Rat Race won the documentary co-production challenge at Mipdoc Cannes 2010.
Dhobi Ghat has been on my movie radar even before I knew about its connection with rat killers. Kiran Rao is a friend and senior of mine from film school in Delhi. I remember hanging out with her and her roommates in their rented barsaati in Sukh Dev Vihar – shadow puppets dangling from the window screens and coloured patch work frames pasted on the walls. I didn’t realize then that one year later when Kiran and her friends moved out, I would make the very same barsaati my home and creative cocoon for the next 2 years!
Kiran’s final year film is probably the only one I remember among the dozens I have viewed in the preview theatre at MCRC. It revolved around a Bengali couple preparing a meal of mustard fish. The film stood out for its mellow approach and the ability to create drama from the mundane…This is the same quality that pervades Dhobi Ghat which is a quiet and meditative journey rather than a dramatic storyline, a film that you experience rather than view. Watching Dhobi Ghat gave me a sense of déjà vu because of the storyline that links characters with spaces to ultimately weave a vivid tapestry of the city of Mumbai, an approach I have been following consciously over the last 18 months to create a narrative for The Rat Race.
I was a little nervous that Prateik’s role as a rat killer would kill some of the novelty in my documentary. Prateik as Munna’ essays the most endearing role in the film, chasing his Bollywood dreams and his love interest while he juggles the jobs that earn him his livelihood. His scene as a rat killer is a turning point in the film but only as a dramatic detail. Phew! Am I glad…
The Rat Race truly proves that fact is often stranger than fiction. In a striking parallel to Dhobi Ghat, our protagonist 57 year old Behram Harda once dreamt of being a Bollywood dancer but he traded his boogeying skills for the security of a government job that entails counting the carcasses of dead rats every morning for the last 35 years. Watch our trailer and you will know why the audience at Cannes fell in love with his crackling energy, wit and humour. He is the reason that I decided I would make a documentary about rats even though I am terrified of rodents!
I am going to sign off in the words of Amir Khan in Dhobi Ghat “ To Mumbai – my muse, my whore, my beloved…” and also whisper under my breath “Back us up in our Rat Race to Cannes.” Amir Khan are you listening?!!
Check out the reward scheme for contributions to The Rat Race that have just gone up on the site. Thanks Paul, Debasis and Atin Bhai for vetting the legal terms and conditions.