Through his 2016 documentary “Machines”, filmmaker Rahul Jain exposes viewers to the astonishing realities of an enormous textile factory in Gujarat via the metal contraptions that fill the space: the machines. Fabrics methodically fall yard by yard and mechanical whirring and clacking is heard throughout the scenes of the film as the workers tell a story of 12 hour days, dangerous tasks, salaries equaling $3 daily, and minimal protective equipment between them and the powerful machinery they operate.
Cameras follow workers as they mix pails of toxic chemicals without gloves and feed fabric through metal blocks, often while bare handed and barefoot. The skill and grace with which the workers operate bears striking resemblance to the precision of the machines, outlining a complex ecosystem that relies just as much on the individuals that run it as the machinery that fills it. As said by one unnamed worker, “here, I need to use strength and brains. Otherwise I would break my hands and legs.”
The audio of the film is exclusively limited to the sounds of the factory and interviews with workers, a seemingly conscious decision by Rahul Jain to avoid sermonizing and rather, let firsthand accounts dictate the narrative. One of the more shocking scenes shows a crowd of workers surrounding the cameras and demanding to know what will be done with the footage and whether Jain will take any action for them with his privilege, to which the filmmaker continues to remain silent.
“Machines” serves as a startling call to action for the garment industry. It is a push for unionization in an industry where 95% of factories have no trade unions. It is a display of the exhausting realities of an 80-hour work week, prompting us to think of the number as more than a just a statistic. It is a reminder that a $3 daily wage is barely enough to survive. And ultimately, it is gripping yet beautiful tale of machines, fabrics, and people.