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Interview Hindi

You can romanticize the dark, but we had to romanticize the light as it was so fleeting: Anandana Kapur

Anandana Kapur's documentary, which was chosen Best Film on Human Rights at the Woodpecker festival, examines the complex relationships between people and the state through the lens of electricity.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

In the documentary Aayi Gayi, filmmaker Anandana Kapur poses a fundamental question: can access to electricity be regarded a right? Or is electricity only to be accessed as a commodity?

Kapur examines the situation in the state of Bihar, where the government is often regarded as an 'older brother' and hence not paying for power is the norm. A team of academics works on the ground to activate the Revenue-Linked Supply Scheme (RLSS) and meets with varying degrees of opposition and success.

The film explores the complex relationships people have with the state through the lens of electricity. In a country with limited resources, can electricity be seen as a social right if the government needs funds to keep the grid functional? If so, can the normalization of non-payment of bills be reversed? Further, is it possible to create an ideal citizenry?

In a conversation on the sidelines of the seventh edition of the Woodpecker International Film Festival in New Delhi, where her documentary was screened and was chosen Best Film on Human Rights, Anandana Kapur spoke of her experiences while making Aayi Gayi. Excerpts:

How did the film come about? And why did you think of Bihar?

EPIC [the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in the United States] was already working on this project where they were trying to look at behavioural change through incentivizing payments. When one heard about it, one was interested. And there is the classic question in the film as well: is [electricity] a fundamental right or a consumer good?

For the sake of sustainability, it has to be treated as a consumer good, but when you look at young children like Raju, who is in the film and has been waiting for electricity to come and has already learnt what it means to be promised and kept waiting, these questions become grave.

So, initially their [EPIC's] idea was that it would be documentation, but as one got involved in the creative process and being a filmmaker, it became a documentary. I think it makes a very important point of giving people voices. We found these people [who are in the film] so in that sense I think the material speaks despite the fact that there is a research organization that has funded the film.

When I thought of going to Bihar, I was advised to not go, told that I would be kidnapped, and everyone advised me to stay away. A lot of that played into my not wanting to let go of the project. When one went there, did the due diligence, and spent some time, the stories came out.

So after you heard what people had to tell you about how it would be dangerous for you as a woman, what was the ground reality like?

It was a mixed bag. When we were filming, if there were 100 people around the camera, there were 200 surrounding the crew, the AD [assistant director] and I, the woman AD. Sometimes it was very difficult to really shout and command and push your boundaries. For me, not so much, because I have worked in the field for a while, but I could really see the young girl trying to find her feet and hold her body in a crowd. Being an object of curiosity and voyeurism, even though you are the one with the camera, was quite a thin walk.

Other than that, there were some women in leadership positions, like a woman cop. Yet, there was a sense of surprise also. I got some interviews out of people because they were so shocked that there was a woman who was talking to them. So sometimes, you had to push through. We had those moments when you had to stand your ground. We had good support from the EPIC team, who had field officers who could come with us.

As your film points out, one is used to the promises made by governments for roti, kapda, makaan [food, clothing, shelter], followed by roads, electricity and water, and the latter are in limited supply. Yet the individual functionaries are rendered helpless in the face of the state that wants them to do their bidding when it comes to doling out these resources. How important was it for you to capture the human face behind the electricity poles and wires?

I think it was critical. When we went in, we did not have faces to names, or even names to numbers. So working with these people became very important because they are usually invisible and they usually get the rough end of the stick. I thought that was very important [to show in the film], because those are the toughest outposts. It was important for us to show the diversity — it is an uneven playing field. There is the generator sector and generator mafia as well. Those who did speak to us were very candid and we did not try to censor anything.

The other important decision we took was to not carry extra lights with us. As a filmmaker, you can romanticize the dark, but here we had to romanticize the light because it was so fleeting. Pretty sunsets do not compensate for you not being able to see your grandmother, which is how it was in the unelectrified village. So those stories drew us.

We also stuck to our ground because people kept saying there is no unelectrified village here, but the word on the street was that there was and we looked at those places.

Aayi Gayi was screened at the Woodpecker International Film Festival at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi on 29 November 2019.

Related topics

Woodpecker International Film Festival