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After a long career working in business in the UK, Anwer Saleem has returned to Kolkata to revive the fortunes of his family's ramshackle auction house, The Russell Exchange.
It was bought from the British by his grandfather in 1940 and has been in the family ever since. Once it was the Sotheby's of India but these days it is living out a much humbler reality. The auctions attract people from across Indian society; rich and poor, but the company is not making profit.
The odds are stacked against Anwer who needs to motivate the staff and his younger brother Arshad to modernise in the internet age. As the brothers come to terms with each other, their amusing relationship gives an insight into whether old family businesses can adapt and survive in 21st century India.
By Ed Owles
For some time I had been looking for a subject about which to make my first hour-long film.
I’m interested in spaces where significant exchanges, relationships or encounters occur, which has taken me from this auction house, to oil rigs in the North Sea to the Libyan Sahara.
When I came across The Russell Exchange auction house I was immediately entranced by the place as a visual spectacle. It’s a setting bursting with stories and layers - strands of Indian society that reflect and affect the city’s narratives.
I also wanted to make a film in India that avoided over-rehearsed tales of abject poverty, or bland headlines about the ‘economic miracle’, and explore a more nuanced space where real Indians meet, laugh, argue and trade day in, day out, for better or worse.
There’s a special poetry that exists there in its own contained world that mirrors the chaotic, crowded city outside its doors.
The brothers' relationship is central to what is a character-driven film and provided me with a fantastically engaging and honest way to tell the story of the auction house.
I hope the film will resonate strongly with audiences both within and outside India, touching on themes of brotherhood, financial difficulty, migration and heritage to create an intimate and thoughtful reflection of contemporary Kolkata and a unique place in the city’s centre that should be treasured.
Source: Al Jazeera