IFFI 2016: Cultural ethos makes India In A Day different, says director Richie Mehta

Already awarded with the Genie award, the filmmaker was at the IFFI masterclass in Goa today.

Shriram Iyengar

At the second day of the prestigious International Film Festival of India (IFFI) festival in Goa, director Richie Mehta spoke about the necessity and importance of trust in filmmaking at his masterclass.

Mehta is gaining prominence as one of the finest documentary filmmakers of his time. His recent document of life in a day in India, India In A Day, has taken the world by storm. Already awarded with the Genie award, the filmmaker was at the IFFI masterclass in Goa today.

Speaking to an audience of film enthusiasts and filmmakers, Mehta said, "Trust is a huge thing. Between the subject and the filmmaker, especially documentary filmmaking."

The documentary consists of video footage submitted to Mehta's team, which was later edited and compiled into a film. Speaking about the process to producer Aseem Chhabra, Mehta added, "This was an amazing opportunity to just watch how Indians live, and anyone with a view of India."

Documentary India in a Day captures realistic slice of Indian life

The director later added that the day was selected with good reason. "Because we wanted the film to be finished around a particular time, so we had to work backwards. The producers wanted it to be on a Saturday, which was one of their stipulations. Some people are not working, so they're a little more relaxed. There was also no major festival happening during this time. They wanted a normal, regular day. I couldn't tell them that doesn't happen in India. But I guess 10 October was the best we could do."

Mehta's film follows the pattern of In A Day documentaries that have been made before to great acclaim. Britain In A Day, Japan In A Day are examples. Although similar in structure, Mehta maintained that India In A Day was different because of "its cultural ethos". He said, "The project is very different, the other In A Day films were good, but they were themeless. What was happening here was that there was a central unifying theme. What we found was India seems different from the world where you can measure progress of humanity in the last 1,000 years where we'd been and where we're going. People were reflecting on this in a very profound manner, in their films."

"These are ideas I could never address in a film (fictional). They were too big, but they were being presented to us," he added.

Interestingly, Mehta observed that none of the footage received was from the upper class in India. The director added that such trust made him feel responsible. He said, "One is lucky to have been given such footage of such honest and genuine nature, which I would also say is a characteristic of Indians. That is the big difference between this film and say Japan In A Day, the cultural difference."

"When people sent these copies to us they didn't have the copy themselves. We had the masters for this. It was real trust," Mehta said.

A common theme of the Masterclass was the difficulty in compiling the footage. He said, "We asked specifically for unedited footage. Many people shot the whole day, and edited it before submissions. We watched it and asked for more because they were so interesting. Some people gave us 12-15 hour footage. One person did a five-camera setup. We had a team of 15 researchers watching everything that came in. It took us about three months to cull it."

Regardless of his recent success, Mehta regards this film as a lesson to himself. "It has taught me that we need more creativity," he said, "If someone can watch a video of a cat on YouTube rather than my film, I require to be better. These films opened my eyes to the technical skill and narratives out there."

Mehta's India In A day is set to be screened at IFFI later today (22 November), while also being set to release on YouTube. The novel experiment certainly spells good news for budding document filmmakers in India.