In Their Shoes takes us to a time when Agra was home to the largest shoe industry in the country. The documentary captures the rise and fall of an industry, whose origins go back to the Mughal era. From when shoes were made from the wasted leather pouches that carried hing (asoeftida) from Iran. To the decline of the domestic leather industry post China’s entry in India (with leather substitutes) and the government’s push to the export industry.
Filmmaker Atul Sabharwal brings alive the documentary through the narrative and the voices he chooses to tell the story through. Through people who’ve been part of the industry (artisans, sellers, suppliers, traders, manufacturers) including his father. And how their passion for the art of shoe-making was equally vital to their success story.
Sabharwal presents how the political situations that arose world over through the 20th century shaped the graph of Agra’s shoe industry. The filmmaker juxtaposes this with a personal angle of why his father, who’s been in the same business for decades, doesn’t want to involve his son in it.
There are also interesting nuggets of information scattered through the film. Like how shoe giant Bata (and Rajiv Gandhi) back in the day comissioned a firm to make boots that Bechandri Pal would wear to climb the Everest. But Bata obviously took the eventual credit. It’s stories and snippets like these that brings alive this must-watch documentary.