Monday 12 September 2011

SHIT!!! Yes, you read it right

A month ago, our University inaugurated its first Film Club named 24. We invited director R. P. Amudhan and also screened three of his films, out of which one was titled SHIT. And, in case you are thinking of the swear word, please change gear as the film is about the literal shit. The film carried a social message on manual scavengers in a place called Madurai in Southern India. The camera follows a woman, Mariamma, who cleans the shit of people in a street adjacent to a temple in Madurai. In a country where people don't even use the left hand for any thing except for cleaning shit, here was this woman whose occupation was only cleaning shit with both her hands. In spite of herself feeling disgusted, she carried on the job as it was her source of income. A country which is seen as a developing one still has pockets as these which speak of parallel histories, a far cry from the "developing" status quo.

I must admit that I could not bring myself to watch the film closely. I was appalled, disturbed and felt disgusted seeing the visuals in the film. The director had used close-ups and the camera followed the lady as she was cleaning shit. The film was in complete realistic mode and believe me, there was no trace of any neo-realistic mode. I think you can imagine what was shown on the screen. Shit, in its raw form, could not be seen by me. This documentary brought several questions to me: Does art create a nauseous feeling? Can art be so brutal on my senses (esp. the visual)? Why couldn't I watch the documentary, after all, it's human waste?

Later, in the discussion, the film-maker revealed that one of his objectives in making the film was to disturb the viewer, and he did succeed.

Another film by the director was on the happenings at a crematorium which showed dead bodies being buried and cremated. While the images of dead bodies did not create any nauseous feeling within me, shit did. I thought that I am quite comfortable with death rather than shit!!! And, many like me, agreed that death was more aesthetically pleasant.

I'm not one for scatology, as art or anything else. But I must say that when I saw the woman manual scavenger cleaning up after everyone had finished their business, made me wonder about my disgust. I am still left confused and disturbed.

I am not providing the link or any material on the documentary SHIT but if you are interested, you could google the name of the documentary and watch the trailer. A complete version of the film is not available on the internet.

I would like to know what is art to you? Would you be fine in watching literal shit on screen and off screen? Maybe you could tell me.

Image: Internet


  1. No way, I could not have watched that. Diapers are about as far as I can go.

  2. Neither me - I couldn't have watched it! Its not a hand in glove kinda situation but practical sense tells me there are other ways than cleaning shit than the way described by you. The least she could do is actually put on some gloves and use a shovel right??? Anyone could have donated that to her!!! I would...

  3. I second Kriti on it. The lady could use a shovel or something, but you cannot say what is the real situation there.

    I had watched very violent movies some that has awfully done scenes for shock value like Cannibal Holocaust and Machete. But while watching it I know it isn't real. Watching an hour long documentary of a lady cleaning shit does not seem to be an engaging prospect to me.

  4. Kriti and Harish:

    Hands, does not mean literal hands. She did use a board kind of thing and no gloves, of course.

  5. I also am not very comfortable seeing the "real" down to the goriest detail in reel - there has to be a line somewhere - I am not sure where tho!

  6. Very interesting question Susan Deborah. I am realistic about the world we live in, I like art, I know people live and work in horrible conditions and believe awareness of this is good...but personally I wouldn't consider something like that art. Just as I didn't consider an exhibit by an art museum that displayed dead rabbits in various poses, art either. Somethings are not necessary to see and while I think a certain awareness is good, just because something is shocking, doesn't make it "art". What does then? I don't know encompasses a great many things.

    Wishing you a great day.:)

  7. Perhaps this is the crux of it- "The film carried a social message on manual scavengers in a place called Madurai -"

    The message being why is this still being done in such a manner in a developing country?
    Hopefully, this is not the same temple where billions of dollars worth of gold and diamonds was recently found in a closed room, and taken away for safekeeping....?

  8. What a nasty definitely must have been quite a disgusting thing to watch. Yet what was the director's objective besides to shock? Was their any worthwhile outcome that came out of it?

    It is quite sad that there are such tasks still requiring manual labour to clear them for society today even though there are sanitation devices.

    But still there are other tasks that are necessary, involving sewage and rubbish that can't be totally mechanized and require manual labour at some point at operation level in all living environments - and to these poor workers who do these jobs I am grateful for the benefit of a clean and generally 'less smelly' environment.

  9. I think I might watched the show for an elective. >.<

    I think this documentary wouldn't have been necessary if a tad more effort was undertaken to have better facilities for citizens. :)

    I wouldn't deny, it was highly puke inducing. :s Filming the documentary in itself is a form of art. :)


  10. Of course it would be uneasy... uncomfortable and disgusting to watch simply because it is reality and we do not want to see reality... or should I say we are willing to see reality provided it is sugar coated so it is pleasing to the senses.
    This movie just puts it there in front of us.. reminding us what we face .. what we have...
    I probably would watch it to remind me and to humble me....

  11. Thanks for writing about this movie in your blog. I remember reading the review of it a couple of years before by Gnani. It may be watchable or not but its utter shame for us to employ the humans to do that job, and whats more pathetic is these people are coming from particular cast and chosen by government organizations. How can we call ourself a proud Indian?

  12. i am so looking up the film now...the thing with shock is you have to disturb butif itis too over the top and you lose your audience you lose your message as well...

  13. Totally understand you not being able to watch it carefully. Yikes. Interesting, but yikes.

  14. Oh! She uses a BOARD? Well then, of COURSE it is art--(picture in your mind my shit-eating-grin!)

    Thought occurred to me, that if I don't watch this, and if nobody else views it, there is no problem. He can make films forever what he desires. It is called 'freedom', Peeps.

    Will tomorrow's screening be titled "FUCK"? LOL!

    OMG! I cannot believe i wrote that, Susan Deborah. You may with my blessing, reject this comment....

    PEACE! JOY always!!!

  15. I hope she wore gloves...
    what a distateful movie.
    I have no idea what art is, dear Susan. I only tell myself that I am completely ignorant and that is why I can not appreciate art or what others call art when I look at a picture hanging in a prestigious building of running paint, yes, running paint as if someone had taken a bucket of white paint and threw it on a green surface. That's art. To me, it is splashed paint.

  16. I am not sure if I would be able to watch that...I will try but I am not sure. It sounds rather disgusting to say the least but unfortunately it seems to be real.

  17. just reading this made my stomach turn..and worse I feel sad for the woman that has to do this just to survive....As always...XOXOXOXO

  18. i ditto to what Jan just said. But the way i can clean that which is the most disgusting using my hands...believe me my husband says i was a manual scavenger in my previous birth.
    Besides i won't make a fuss nor would i deny even if it makes you wince. i have grown up seeing the yellow thing everywhere. Even the steps that lead to the temple or in the holy river where we go to absolve ourselves of our sins. i only take care that i don't step on it but the rest is okay with me.Here's something from schooldays that i'd like to share.
    Why did the fool shit in the sunlight?
    He/she wanted to prove that all that glitters is not gold.
    Coming back to the point art is art.As the director wanted to convey a strong message he depicted it in it's original and raw form. But some of these original can be disgusting and disturbing and may force you to look away.
    Sure something basic and so natural i am wondering if it did not emanate a fowl smell then would it be okay???

    QuestionWhy do fools shit everywhere?

  19. Ummmm, yeah, pass. From a sociological perspective, it's interesting but no thanks to a movie about it. Poor woman.

  20. Dear Susan, I have been traveling thus I am trying to catch up with everyone after my absence.;)
    Always enjoy my stops here.;)
    This is such a difficult issue for me. I try to stay open minded but at times I view that which is considered art with horror and disgust too.
    At a modern arts museum in the city where I used to live there was an exhibition once, considered as an art by an artist depicting the partition of a horse carcass. It was filmed, everything from the slaughter and the partition and you could view the film and the jars containing the carcass pieces in formaldehyde. I am sorry, but that is not art to me. That is a doing of sick mind.
    So, I do not think something that is suppose to shock and disgust is art, nor will I ever view it as one.

  21. Hi Susan .. what an incredibly enlightened film director - it certainly highlights the absolute difference between lives.

    I remember when the Arabs first arrived in London with their wealth .. the peoples accompanying them were also put up in flats in the posh West End of London .. and shat on the floor ... simply because they didn't know any better.

    I have to say - it's a horrible thought, but 'art' teaches us about life elsewhere around the world .. and though I can't quite see this being a 'hit' .. it certainly through your blog has opened peoples' eyes to other ways of life ..

    That's the challenge - it's realising that things are very different in other parts of the world ...

    In fact some people have just been arrested here for keeping people, who were at the end of their tethers - no homes, drugs, alcohol, etc, as slaves ... they've been 'rescued' (some have gone back!) by the police and authorities .. and one chap said he wasn't allowed to use his keepers' toilets, and so had to use the bush or whatever was around ...

    We do need to know - so I'm glad you had the courage to post about it ..

    In some ways like Slumdog Milionaire .. that showed some graphic shots .. but nothing like this. We were shown longdrops into the river recently in a BBC film .. that the presenter had to use while there .. and showed him going to use them ...

    Well done .. is all I can say - Hilary

  22. And all this when manual scavenging is banned by law in our country! Even your description of the movie has managed to make me uncomfortable. Especially, after I've read Mulk Raj Anand's 'Untouchable'.

    Does Jayalalitha (or for that matter, Karunanidhi) realise that such people do not need free TVs, grinders, etc. but an economic opportunity to have a decent living? And are we as a society still so cold hearted?

  23. If you don't mind, im going to give a miss to watching that film. But i would say that when somebody next complains about their job i will no doubt be mentioning what i've read in this post.

  24. Even reading it made me cringe... I feel so sad that people still do this, and they don't even use gloves! I can't even think about it...

  25. Hey my dear sweet friend- I've read this but I don't like shit at all- Art I understand as something which moves people positively, and if negative, only thought provoking... but shit!!!!??? oh my- yes death is more artful

  26. Susan D...I just must weigh in here again. The reason, the purpose, the mission of all the arts; painting, sculpting, drawing, composing music, singing, writing poetry, music (performing AND/OR participating as an audience) is to lift one another and the populace up from the depths of daily living, its sometimes boring ups and downs.

    Art (I forgot design, from buildings to magazine covers) is to bring us closer to our Higher Power, Whoever that may be. It creates enjoyment, pleasure, and bring to me an attitude of gratitude, which tends to make life SO much more easy.

    Thanks for letting me throw in 2 more centavos!

  27. I'm speechless. I've never heard anything of shiting in the open and and the job of cleaning shit manually in India .

    I think the documentary on this topic is important. Art or not art - that's not the question. Life and what kind of a life is.

  28. Jan:

    Even diapers are alien to me. Let's wait and see.


    Even I'm not sure Yuv.

  29. Colleen:

    Can't art shock us, Colleen? SHould it only induce lovely feelings?


    No that place is Kerala, my husband's place. This incident is in Tamil Nadu- my place.
    Jim, after the documentary was released, the government took stock of the condition and people began protesting the issue. Now the woman is employed as a sweeper, not a great change but a definite change to cleaning shit.

  30. BM:

    The outcome was that many people were made aware of a situation like that. the government took note. People began protesting such inhuman jobs.


    Glad that you have watched the documentary. You're right in saying that filming itself is an art.

    Welcome here, Usha and thanks for your observations.

  31. Savira:

    You are an exalted being. I salute you!


    Glad to know that you have read about this film. Have you seen it? India has many such obscure pockets, Sethu. What to do?

  32. Brian:

    Hope you got to see the trailer.


    Interesting?!?! NO. Yikes: yes. But the film does convey some bitter truths.


    Some social issues have to be highlighted, Steve and I guess, that's what he did.

  33. Myriam:

    Splashed paint!!! Sounds cool.


    Sometimes crude reality is shocking and distasteful.

  34. Bongo:

    Sad, yes.


    Good to see you here. You are a different breed, Shivani. Good to know that.
    You know, our shit is fine and our children's shit is fine but what about the shit of the man on the road who is unknown to us?

  35. Pam:

    Sociological also is a bit shaky for me.


    You offer a very pragmatic take on this, dear Zuzana. Liked your candid comment.

  36. Hilary:

    What an insightful comment, Hilary. You seem to be an observer of cultures, which is wonderful. Your openness and views are much appreciated.


    I was thinking of Bakka as well when I was viewing this documentary.

    Please read the reply to Jim.

  37. Larry:

    I am not forcing you to watch this, dear Larry.

    Ha Ha.


    It is something hard to digest but the thought of earning money made her take up that 'government job.'

  38. Dulce:

    Death is definitely more artful.
    Glad to see you here, Dulce. Been some time now.


    Is your view of art one-sided? When we can accept the natural human body (read nudity), why don't we see shit also the natural process of the human body?

  39. DUTA:

    You should visit India and see things for yourself.

  40. No. Don't think I'll be looking up this documentary. The artist achieves his goal - to disturb. I was disturbed just reading your post.

    There are so many facets to art it's hard to appreciate them all. I like the art that makes me think, that teaches me something or that I just purely enjoy because of its beauty.

  41. Myrna:

    Glad to see you. His goal is to disturb people from their comfort zone. I guess, for some, art is only beauty.

    Joy always :)

  42. First off, I do think we live in parallel universes. Just recently, a Filipino film was shown that told the story of an actress who got submerged in a septic tank full of shit! What's with shit that Asian filmmakers are attracted to nowadays? :))

    To answer your questions: No, I wouldn't want to see it. I'm as squeamish as you in that regard. Death is acceptable because there's such a thing as "beautiful death". But there can never be beautiful shit!

    So is it art? Well, we all have different definitions of art. Mine is that it can be interpreted differently but generally inspires. In the end, if the audience is inspired, then it may be art! I wouldn't wanna find out though, haha!

  43. As a child, I used to live in an illusion that ART is anything with which we can describe or paint or sculpt something which is actually more beautiful than the actual one. In short I used think expressing something in a better way was ART. With this illusion I used to try and sketch the broom stick witches with pretty faces(I don’t know how successful I used to be then :P ). As I grew up I realized that ART is anything or any form brought forward to show what is present in our brain(our imagination). The way in which you transfer the content present inside you to any form which can be read or heard or viewed or which can even be smelled or even can be tasted is an ART.

    So ART is not simply what you see or what you hear or what you smell or what you taste directly. What feelings the artist is trying to show, what ingredients he is using and how he is improvising and what message the artist is trying to deliver etc etc are the things we need to understand to really enjoy a particular art. Sometimes we need to try and understand what was going on in the mind of the artist at the time of creating that particular art to understand the feelings of the artist and the art in a better way.


    Every ART need not have the same effect on every person as the perception differs from person to person. You see every person is unique.

    If you go and show the same documentary to a human scavenger, it may not shock him/her but definitely he/she will not have any problem in watching it. Not all people can enjoy a particular art. Only who feel connected can relish the beauty of the art in its true form.

    Personally speaking, I’d like to watch the film to see the depths of the imagination of the director and to understand the un told words of the director.

    Showing death is mysteriously complicated. I find his imaginations irresistibly curious.

    Susan, thanks for sharing such a thought provoking subject :)

  44. New to your blog,but I am already bookmarking this site:D

    I had read a book by a Dave Praeger titled "Poop culture:How America is shaped by its Grossest national product".

    Believe me when I say this,it was the most fascinating book I have read in ages partly because the topic is so off limits..Sex has come out in the open,Movie cameras have gone into the bedrooms but not the bathroom.Can you recall a single movie showing the handsome star taking a dump?The book gave me the answers to so many of the questions you raise...

  45. Age:

    But Age, shit is something that has never or rarely been addressed. We shie away from it as it is not very pleasant or aesthetic. And having said that all, I'm also repulsed by shit.

    Thanks for this comment, Age. Glad that you joined this conversation.


    I'm glad you took time out for this comment. This subject is highly debatable and this forum of comments is quite interesting. Thanks for coming by, Asif.

  46. Arumugam:

    Welcome here and glad to have you join the discussion. Now that you have mentioned this book, I am curious to know what's inside it.
    You are quite right when you mention that the bathroom is quite an off limit space. In fact, I reckon that the bathroom is more personal than the bedroom!

    Thanks for stopping by and lo! let me go to flipkarto check for the book.

    Joy always :)

  47. I heard of the book while trawling through the net and landed on a site BTW,the site has the most funny tagline I have heard in a long time'The No 1 source on No 2':D

    Do check out the amazon reviews as flipkart doesn't have a review system in place yet(at least not for little known books) The book is incredibly diverse ranging from the popularity of Japanese Bidets where people dont have to even touch err..themselves.(Even the Indian method finds a mention) to toilet paper manufacturers who have to sell a product without inviting the customer to picture its use,hence the detour through fluffy clouds and teddies:D

  48. I promptly checked Flipkart and have added the book to my wishlist. Shall procure it once I have some money on my card.
    Many of my friends in UK, have tried asking me, albeit gently, as to how we Indians use our hands. I always reply: The most personal act always has a personal effect!

    Aw, we're actually having a conversation on shit!!! Funny, yes.

    Thanks for coming back Arumugam. I checked your profile. Seems that you don't have a blog. Why so?

  49. Thats because I love to read more than I love to write:-)
    I love to comment,engage with interesting poeple via their blogs,discuss common passions,understand different POV's,and learn from people from different walks of life:-)

    And i feel free of all obligation and mutual back scratching:D

  50. Quite true, the back scratching. Good to know you. What do you do? Are you a student?

  51. I wish i was:-)I am having my quarter life crisis:-),I work as a technology consultant in my hometown,Bangalore:D



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