Union Leader is inspired from more than one real life events. ~ Sanjay Patel
"I strongly believe that the story of UNION LEADER is of universal interest and will certainly move beyond Indian audiences."
Union Leader, directed by director Sanjay Patel, is a story of a resigned to his fate a worker- Jay, in a notoriously shoddy chemical plant. Jay wants little more for his wife and son & to escape their life of poverty but soon he realizes that he must not only find a way to support his family, but also overcome grave social and legal injustice in the system.
Director, Sanjay Patel is interested in exploring how films can change attitudes, beliefs, and bring about individual and social change. Sanjay believes, if used correctly, the films could be an extremely powerful tool. It can help us understand the world from another’s viewpoint. We talk to him about the inception of the idea, his personal experiences working in chemical industries and the global relevance of the subject of the film.
Tell us a little bit about the film.
The film is a social drama in Hindi language with English sub-titles, about 106 minutes in length. It’s a story of one chemical plant worker who wants to escape the life of poverty but it seems that it’s an uphill task for him – he has to fight against the corporate greed and injustice in the legal system of India.
Despite nine worker’s deaths at Hema Chemicals between 2001 and 2009, due to their exposure to Chromium Sulfate, Hema Chemicals continues to operate even today.
You’ve said the story is inspired by your real life when you worked as an engineer in chemical plants. Explain?
Ever since I started working in the chemical industry about 20 years ago, I wanted to make a film about workers and their struggle. And the timing couldn’t have been any better. India is all set to be the world’s youngest country by 2020, with potentially the world’s largest labor force. The optimism about the country’s future as an economic power house rides on the promise of its demographic dividend. But the task is seemingly uphill. India ranks poorly on the ease of doing business index and because of that country’s labor laws are changing but in favor of employers unfortunately.
The labor laws make it easier for employers to fire laborers, make it harder to unionize, tougher to take industrial disputes to court and will exempt a large number of small and medium enterprises from existing labor regulations including health and safety regulations. Labor courts are overburdened and the justice system is a nightmare for the poor to negotiate.
Union Leader is inspired from more than one real life events. The sad and inspirational story of Jay in UNION LEADER is told against the backdrop of toxic chemical plants where workers are dying due to exposure to Chromium Sulfate in India and Hema Chemicals Private Ltd. located in Gujarat province is a major reference for the story. Despite nine worker’s deaths at Hema Chemicals between 2001 and 2009, due to their exposure to Chromium Sulfate, Hema Chemicals continues to operate even today.
The much applauded documentary by Rahul Jain Machines talks about the same space and demography. What did you feel was the need to tell the story?
I haven’t watched Machines yet so can’t comment much but I’m sure Union Leader is not the same as Machines. Union Leader is a feature film as opposed to Machines which is a documentary. In feature film, you’ve an artistic and creative freedom which can make your story more compelling and engaging. In terms of story and content, my film is of universal interest and it focuses on chromium sulfate and the dangers it causes due to its exposure and I’m sure that’s not the case with Machines.
What was your most challenging shooting situation?
Well, shooting in Vatva – the industrial area of Ahmedabad in India where we shot chemical plant scenes, was very challenging for us because of pollution and hazardous working conditions. We were there for ten days and I was extremely worried about health of my cast and crew. But prior to the shooting, I spent quite a bit of time at the shooting locations in Vatva to sort out the shooting strategy. We scheduled shooting of all the plant scenes in the end and that way if someone falls sick, it won’t hamper the whole shooting schedule. We took all the necessary safety precautions including minimized exposure of team at shooting locations by planning and organizing shooting schedule in a smart way. In the end, it worked well and luckily no one fell sick. I was relieved.
Tell us about the unique casting for the film.
Apart from the lead actors, most of the actors in Union Leader are from Gujarat who are not only talented but they are very experienced when it comes shooting in Gujarat. I watched a few Gujarati films prior to shooting for Union Leader and I must say: there are a lot of talented actors in Gujarat who are not that popular at national level because of lack of opportunity to work in Hindi movies but I’m hopeful that my film will change it.
In feature film, you’ve an artistic and creative freedom which can make your story more compelling and engaging.
It’s an Indo-Canadian production. How did that come about?
It’s a first co-production between these two great nations on the planet and I’m very happy and excited to receive that honour. We’ve already received the approval for co-production from the Indian authorities and I’m in the process of getting the same from Canadian authorities and it is in the last stage of approval process.
Why do you think UNION LEADER will appeal to a global audience?
One of the main focuses of UNION LEADER is to highlight workers’ struggle in their efforts to unite and organize for better living conditions and social justice. And some of the workers’ issues that I’ve touched in UNION LEADER are global issues. For instance, the number of workers die each year due to the occupational cancer is simply huge. It is estimated that occupational cancers are a leading cause of work related death and it causes over 650,000 deaths worldwide each year. I strongly believe that the story of UNION LEADER is of universal interest and will certainly move beyond Indian audiences.