The Economic Times
Diamonds in a Vegetable Market
“ A stunningly authentic document shot on location that makes unfamiliar people and strange ways of life completely familiar.” Peter Dreessen
“A gem… Absolutely without pretension, but enquiring and curious, Vachani roams the Indian bus terminals, observes the vendors and listens attentively to what they have to say. She is able to touch not only everyday life but the despair behind eloquent facades.
The images are fascinating, intricate and beautiful.”
“A traveller sees faces but does not know what lies behind them. ‘Diamonds in a Vegetable Market’ has more to offer than picturesque images and easy laughs. In a very impressive way, this film etches the biographies behind faces… there is no high-handed commentary, the people themselves speak, spontaneously and with authenticity.” P.B.
“India seen from a different angle. This documentary by the Indian director Nilita Vachani brings to the forefront a rare view of the bus as a microcosm and a mirror to society at large. Vachani in her very well photographed film puts together an eloquent montage of the intimately familiar with the unusual and the unexpected. The result is a charming and richly textured picture of an aspect of Indian life and culture where salesmen lead a hand-to-mouth existence peddling lemon squeezers, health drops and magic tricks to jam-packed rattling buses. “
Cahiers du Cinema
“ It’s a jewel.” Laurence Giavarini
“Diamonds in a Vegetable Market allows you to become a passenger on an Indian bus, full of eloquent quacks and con men, entertainment mongers, sellers of good-for-nothing products, charming cheats and worldlywise philosophers. This faraway world is brought so close that the film viewer becomes a spectator on the bus, accompanying these ingenius dilletantes to their shanty towns, listening to their alluring tales, eating and living with their families, all this without feeling in the least that he has intruded into their lives.
Nilita Vachani and her cameraman show keen curiosity while maintaining a respectful distance from their characters. The life they depict thus remains authentic and intact, never distorted by obtrusiveness or voyeurism. At the same time, the unknown is allowed to retain its mystery, it is never simplified into a convention…
The film is at the same time about little things and great things, home-made remedies and the philosophy of life which is also the philosophy of survival.”
“L’Alle’e centrale d’un bus est leur theatre la scene sur laquelle ils jouent leur survie. Marchands d’illusion, de vent, de poudre aux yeux, de potions magiques ou de baume au coeu, c’est tout le petit peuple des bateleurs de l’Inde du Nord que la jeune re’alisatrice indienne Nilita Vachani a choisi d’explorer….
… “En Inde, la survie est un art” dit Nilita Vachani: l’intelligence de son film… est toute entiere contenue dans cette phrase. Car si Diamonds in a Vegetable Market est un film de commande, le jeune documentariste indienne a su de’passer la simple chronique d’un milieu sympathique amis par moments un peu anecdotiwue. Tout son film, comme au theatre, est construit sur l’idee du double jeu, de la representation, de la dualite apparence-realite’ brute.
La force du film, ce qui le rend universel, touchant, est de montrer comment chacun d’entre nous peut investir, travestir, jouer, au sens plein et theatral du terme, un metier qu’il exerce pour vivre our pour survivre, un metier qui n’est pas force’ment passionnant en lui-meme, pour le rendre supportable…
…Les Vendeurs d’Illusion montre que transformer sa propre vie, sa propre condition, n’est pas un simple tour de passe- passe magique. Face aux difficulte’s de la vie quotidienne, it ne reste qu’a’ faire illusion: sur soi-meme, et sur les autres. “
Fabienne Darge, Juillet 28, 1994
Breaking Fresh Ground: “Post modernism is less a theory than a mentality. It is marked by arch sophistication and emotional flatness and its subjects show a weariness. The mood flourishes in times of political impasse and constriction. Vachani’s latest ‘Sabzi Mandi Ke Heere’ perfectly catches this mood…
The results of post modern technique may appear unheroic- in fact that is the purpose, to break the ground narrative- but the effort is in a sense, heroic. In ‘Eyes of Stone’ Vachani must have spent months charting her subject’s experiences. Here she takes, among others, the lives of two performers- one a surma seller and the other a magician and follows them with marvellous precision and empathy. Shakeel the surma-seller doubles as a quawwali-singer in season… It’s not great singing; the idea is to catch the “is-ness” of the happening at the lower-middle-class level where religion is the rope of survival. Not so Hashmat, the magician, whose crosses are memory and religion… the lives of Shakeel and Hashmat are rendered with prosy integrity. In its genre the film is innovative and breaks fresh ground.”
Iqbal Masud, September 8, 1993
The Sunday Statesman
“Nilita Vachani’s ‘Sabzi Mandi Ke Heere’ is a 68 minute docu-drama of rare intensity. Made with sensitivity and technical finesse, it tries to lay bare the soul of the ubiquitous seller who hawks his wares on the buses of U.P. Hashmat the magician comes off as an unforgettable one-in-a-million character… He is at once a success and a failure on a grand scale. Unlike the others, he performs street magic and sells a two rupee tricks booklet like hot cakes. But behind this successful front is failure- he is a virtual itinerant, an alcoholic, unable to come to grips with life and love that have passed him by. He is a complex figure given to acting and posture, and at the end of it all, fact and fiction weld inextricably in his superb performance. He plays himself so well that one stops seeing through his act and is simply moved.”
June 13, 1993
The Times of India
“Extraordinary ordinary people, common men you meet down the aisle of life and involuntarily tend to ignore, individuals who hardly matter, incandescent drops that make up the sea of humanity: these are the heroes of Nilita Vachani’s documentary, ‘Diamonds in a Vegetable Market’. Vachani who made a promising debut with ‘Eyes of Stone’ (recipient of seven awards and citations) lives up to it with her second. For the film is a deep psychological insight into the small-time joys and sorrows of small-timers without being voyeuristic, patronising or playing psychiatrist.”
Nikhat Kazmi, May 16, 1993
“ With the lyricism so evident in ‘Sabzi Mandi Ke Heere, her second film shows an instinctive talent for real life drama. As her debut film sought to do, it penetrates the subject so thoroughly that the real life portrayal becomes totally dramatic in its intensity. The combination of her brand of cinema verité and Vangelis Kalambakas’s fine cinematography has produced a film that firmly grips you through the 68 minutes that takes you into the world of bus vendors and back.
… Ultimately Vachani’s ability to penetrate beyond the quite innocuous lives of her players and bring home the behind stage realities of their performances reveals her forte. For without expressly stating it, she has managed to place her subjects in a larger frame of society where these fringe elements and their survival instincts come through without compromises.”
Sabita Tekkeveetil, May 18, 1993
“ Each vendor has his act. Irreverent, hyperbolic, loud; anything to turn a restive busload of passengers into an audience, and the crowded aisles into a performance space. A hundred times a day the man steps into his role. A hundred times a day he steps out. Much as each one of us enact ourselves day after day.
Nilita Vachani’s film Sabzi mandi Ke Heere is not so much about the bus vendors as it is a parable about being and becoming; about the act- and the impossibility of a reality; about the face beneath the mask, which is another mask.
The film deals with three vendors: Afsar, who makes but will not use the balms, tooth powders and surma that he sells. He is a forthright, uncomplicated man, happy in the warmth and intimacy of his family. Shakeel, the Sufi quawal, who reads the holy Koran at home and has a yearning for fame and sells “world champion” surma on buses. Above all, the film is about Hashmat the magician, ebullient and magnetic as he performs tricks and sells a magic book by day; and by night a tormented sinner who has lost his chances, his beloved, his remote and unforgiving god.
As the film interweaves the lives of these three men, sequence answers sequence. We have ambition and ease, alienation and intimacy, rectitude, sinfulness and unconscious self-acceptance. Carefully crafting inter-connections and parallel themes, the film has the quality of a densely textured piece of prose. It is not telling a story; it is only showing how, when we construct ourselves, we make our universes as well.”
Kavita Singh, June 26, 1993