Why Watch? Tea is delicious. Granted, you can’t actually taste any of it through your computer screen, but never mind that. Chaiis a documentary that ties together the experiences of four people working in tea shops all over India, from Kerala to Mumbai. One is an old man who has been making tea for years, and has watched the rapid and sprawling growth of India’s cities since the beginning. The others are quite young, from a boy of ten working in Mumbai to a girl of 18 who fled her village on the night of her arranged wedding. The last is a young man in Kerala, who came south from Kashmir to escape from the police. All four are selling tea far from the place of their birth, this national beverage becoming a metaphor of sorts for a whirlwind of internal migration.
As for the film around these characters, director Gitanjali Rao has woven them together with a handful of interesting cinematic ideas. Tea itself is front and center, of course, but Rao is careful to at least hint at the wide variety of preparation techniques used in India. He also brings in some surprising but perfectly integrated animation to paint the past lives of his subjects, vividly recreating their journeys from the village to the metropolis. Yet their real-life faces are never featured. The intent seems to be a blending of their stories into a single, national cup of chai.
Chai is one of the five “India Is” films released this week by the Indian government’s Ministry of External Affairs, co-produced by Viacom 18. Check out the other four at the YouTube channel for the series.
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