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Documentary India in a Day captures realistic slice of Indian life

India’s first crowdsourced film, directed by Richie Mehta, was shown at a special screening by the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.

Sonal Pandya

Fresh off its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), crowdsourced documentary, India in a Day, made its Indian premiere at a special screening held by the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival last night. The one-of-its-kind film was backed by Google and executive produced by filmmakers Ridley Scott and Anurag Kashyap. Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta was assigned the task of accumulating the more than 16,000 entries from amateurs all over India. The finished product is stunning and profoundly moving in places.

It all began when the internet company, Google, teamed up with Kashyap, Karan Johar, R Balki, Zoya Akhtar and Shekhar Kapur to put the word out on social media for their unique project. 10 October 2015 was selected as the day which all contributors had to capture their ordinary and extraordinary moments of their lives.

Director Neeraj Ghaywan introduced the screening in Mumbai as a “democratic way of filmmaking” while Anurag Kashyap proclaimed Mehta’s cinematic choices as “fearless”. India in a Day begins and ends at midnight, forever awake and at motion. The feature then follows its countless citizens, humans and animals, who go through their daily struggles. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, siblings, young and old, they’re all there, sharing their voice.

With over 365 hours of footage, Mehta said there were cataloguers from all over the nation and some interesting observations could be found. While there were several people who filmed themselves, there were so many more who chose to turn the camera on others. Many of them happened to be women. One story, in particular, especially stood out. Priya, a single mother in Delhi, had only five minutes a day to herself and talked candidly about her hopes and fears for life in those stolen moments.

Both urban and rural India shared their stories with incredible optimism. Two young men from Karnataka hopped on a bike to Satara Dhaba, a food establishment run by transgenders where they hoped to have the best rotis and egg kheema. At lunchtime, the whole place was full.

Many chose to interview their family members — young children provided the humour while the elders handed out wisdom. Even animals were showcased in the film. In Assam, elephants frolicked the river while one man showed the plight of one cow in a crowded metropolis — she refused to let a bus move, coming in its path at all times. The reason behind her mission will get you choked up.

As one contributor rightly said, “There’s this magic about India, that pulls you back, that keeps you coming back.” Despite all the hardships and inequality, faces in the film are resilient. As the film ends, the prevailing message is one of hopefulness.

Mehta said the makers did not control much of the narrative, allowing the stories to speak for themselves. He elaborated, “That understanding if we just share each other’s stories, we’re going to find far more drama, far more learning, far more education, far more humour than we could possibly imagine than the biggest entertainers in the world. This is our lives.”

Executive producer Kashyap explained his reasons for supporting the film. He said, “When I saw the film for the first time, I saw an India that we largely ignore in our movies. It’s an India that is probably not profitable enough for our film business. It’s an India that we don’t talk about in cinemas, it’s so profound, it’s so impactful. This film is going to stay for a very long time in my conscious.”

Producer Cassandra Sigsgaard, who was also at the screening, pointed out the documentary contained both a female and male perspective, both from the producing and filmmaking side. She had fellow producer Jack Arbuthnott at her side while the film was put together by Mehta and editor Beverly Mills. Mills had never been to India and had no understanding of the language, however, her unfettered perspective is intriguing.

India in Day will eventually be available on YouTube for viewing but, in the meantime, Indian viewers can catch it for a limited time as it releases on 23 September in theatres across the country.