It was with a very heavy heart that I eventually sat down to watch ‘Welcome to India’. I envisioned yet another simpering human interest story, this time focussing on the slums of Kolkata and Mumbai and how the population get by.
As a rule, I don’t like these types of programmes, often cheesy and heavy handed they batter me with sentiment, earnestness and a whining over the top sincerity that just makes my skin crawl. This, ultimately detracts from whatever message/lesson that is trying to be conveyed, leaving me with nothing but contempt for the filmmakers and myself for becoming such a cold and cynical bastard.
Loaded with these preconceptions, some fags and a serious charge of caffeine ripping through my system, I finally hit play and prepared myself to be bored, nauseated and condescended to.
How wrong I was.
It didn’t start too well, the opening credits of the planet Earth narrated by Sacha Dhawan, were full of the kind of cheddary promise I spend my life avoiding. However once this is over, Welcome to India comes alive with twinkling personality, energy and charm.
Presented as a guide on how to survive and make a buck in an increasingly urban and chaotic world, the programme introduces us to a selection of groups as they demonstrate how to eke out a living in two of India’s most competitive Cities; Kolkata and Mumbai.
There are families operating as businesses and businesses operating as families, including roadside book sellers, fenugreek farmers and the seaside shanty pub landlords.
It is however, a motley crew of gold sweepers, who are the main focus of the programme. Twenty young men gripped by capitalist virtue and led by the charismatic Kaale, they follow an ingenious yet painstaking path towards the realisation of their dreams.
Taking their lead from the panhandlers of the old west the boys sweep the jewellery district of Kolkata, snaffling up the rubbish and dust in order to process it and get their hands on the tiny particles of gold that have been washed and discarded from the skin of more affluent merchants.
When times are lean they take this pioneering spirit into the drainage system and fill bag upon bag with gold flecked mud, sludge and sewerage, which are sold onto more advanced gold refiners for a small profit.
It all sounds so painful and soul destroying, but every single one of the subjects in this fascinating opening episode go about their business with an almost existential acceptance of life’s hardships, face spanning grins and an unrelenting desire to improve their circumstances for themselves and each other.
By the time it was over, I did not feel sorry for the citizens of Kolkata and Mumbai, in fact quite the opposite, I was impressed by their gumption and the entrepreneurial spirit they exhibited. Though not quite cured of my cynicism towards worthy television I will definitely watch the next episode of ’Welcome to India’ and recommend that you watch the first.