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Interview Hindi

Wanted to honestly capture what was happening in the lockdown, says Bharatbala on Uthenge Hum

The video has been put together by 16 crews working across 14 states and captures for posterity an India never seen before.

Keyur Seta

Several songs and videos have been released by individuals and teams in different languages over the course of the two-and-a-half-month countrywide lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. But what filmmaker Bharatbala is set to present tomorrow is very different.

The short documentary that the man best known for producing AR Rahman's Vande Mataram music album, which included the rousing 'Maa Tujhe Salaam' number, is set to release digitally promises to be a record of India in the time of a pandemic.

Titled Uthenge Hum and shot by Bharatbala and a team of 117 people guided by him remotely, the film captures arresting visuals of different parts of the country under lockdown, showing us an India we had never seen before, an India at standstill.

Explaining how he came up with the idea for the project, Bharatbala told Cinestaan.com, “In my life, this was something I had never experienced, a pandemic for the first time. And as a creator, a filmmaker, it was a natural urge to want to document this.”

The filmmaker did not have a plan for what the final product should be like, because no one knew what to expect. “We wanted to be honest and capture what was happening," he said. "I wanted to capture key moments of the lockdown, that were passing by so quickly that they had to be found and filmed quickly. We didn’t go in with an idea about the shape it would take. We went in blank to watch the story unfold.”

Bharatbala during the making of the video

For Uthenge Hum, he first had to assemble a team of people from across India. “When we put out the word, people were excited about the project and wanted to be a part of it,” Bharatbala said. “We managed to get 16 crews in total, from across 14 states. It was a challenge to connect and ensure proper coordination and information flow across 16 crews when working remotely, but technology made this possible.”

Once the teams were in place, Bharatbala drew up a plan to coordinate their work and get the best footage. “Each team was individually spoken to and briefed to ensure that we were all on the same page," the producer said. "It was all well researched and designed. Specific, careful briefs were given.

“A master control room was set up in Bombay, which had a team coordinating incoming footage from across the country, round the clock. The on-ground teams would communicate with me directly, and I could live-direct using video calls and WhatsApp by looking at the monitors and telling them the kind of frames I wanted. There were also instances when we did not get certain key shots right and had to go back and shoot.”

During the making of the video

Looking back at the journey, Bharatbala said every stage was filled with challenges. “It began with an impossible vision. How do we get access and permission from the authorities to achieve this? How do we find the right crews to film this in different places, as we could not physically travel across states? How do we connect and ensure seamless creativity with 16 crews? It was technology that kept us going, and the enthusiasm and support of everyone involved,” he said.

Asked how they managed to get the permissions required from the various state and central government agencies involved, Bharatbala, who directed the acclaimed Tamil film Maryan (2013) starring Dhanush, said, “It is a difficult question to answer. But one thing I can assure you is that when the intent is there and genuine effort is put in, doors do open. You have to be persistent.

“It was definitely challenging, but it was also really heartwarming to see how people and the authorities understood the importance of the project and came forward to give us unprecedented access.”

As for what he hopes to achieve with the video, the creator said, “I just want people to remember what we as a nation and a people have gone through.”

Uthenge Hum will be released digitally tomorrow 6 June.

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