Interview English

Making a film on anti-beggary law was soul-cleansing, says Kireet Khurana on The Invisible Visible


The filmmaker, known for his movies on social issues, is pleading for a repeal of the Bombay Beggary Prevention Act 1959 through his latest documentary.

Kireet Khurana

Keyur Seta

Many might not be aware about something called an ‘anti-begging law.’ It’s technically called the Bombay Beggary Prevention Act 1959. A number of states in India have adopted this law under which a person found begging on the streets can be imprisoned.

Filmmaker Kireet Khurana’s documentary The Invisible Visible makes an appeal to lawmakers to repeal these laws. The movie dives right into the settlements of beggars and homeless people and presents a boldly realistic portrayal of what they go through.

In an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com, Khurana shared in detail all that went into the making of the film and how the team reduced 90 hour footage into a documentary of an hour and 20 minutes. Excerpts:

When did you think you should make a documentary on this issue?

I have been making films on various social causes. Even my feature film T For Taj Mahal (2020) was on a social cause — social entrepreneurship. Coming to this film, honestly speaking, I was one of those who used to walk the street and ignore these people. They were invisible for me. Then I met a bunch of people, including Tarique [Mohammed, a social worker from the nonprofit Koshish Foundation], who has been doing remarkable work in this space. And I felt sensitized to the extent that I started feeling guilty. I thought I am a person of integrity, but I am put to shame for what this man is. While doing films on so many social causes, I had completely ignored this area.

Tarique’s narrative was so powerful that I decided to make a film on it. But then I got busy with the Saeed Mirza documentary [The Leftist Sufi (2016)] and other films. I took this film up in 2019. I shot it across India for 52 days. Then there was the pandemic. It’s a self-funded film. I make money from advertising and pour it into my films because it’s difficult to get funding for these kind of films. And there is no ROI [return on investment]. Because of the pandemic, the money died out because advertising work died out. I was able to work on it again in May this year as advertising work was back. 

This has been a very soul-cleansing and uplifting journey for me. It’s also a rediscovery of myself.

Tarique Mohammed from the Koshish Foundation

What was your research like?

There was a team of five or six researchers. We started researching in 2017. My research head is a capable person called Satvika Khera. She works on human rights, specifically on girl trafficking. She got very interested in this. She got everything done. She has dedicated her life to social service. She comes from a very affluent family.

But most of the cases that you see of individual people, we just went there and got the stories. It was not planned. For example, we got to know that tomorrow a potential repatriation is happening. So we felt we should just go there and shoot and see what comes up. This is how we got that beautiful incident of a woman lost for 18 years finally recognizing her son. It was like a Hindi film.

Similarly, we were doing the night out and suddenly these two people came down from the building and started questioning us on why we are helping these people who are homeless and defecating outside their house and creating a nuisance. Then Tarique deals with them and it ends with them asking for his card. They are not wrong; just that they are not sensitized. Such a remarkable conversation happened in just 15 minutes!

What were your major challenges while shooting at locations that are not even fit to live?

You just have to become a part of that system and the woodwork. You just have to melt into that space. Once you start believing that you are one of them and empathize with them, it becomes easy. If the barriers between you and them perish, they will pour their life [out]. All of them are miserable and looking for somebody to speak their hearts out to. If they identify you as that person and you connect with them emotionally, then you get some extraordinary footage.

A still from the making of the film

Was it challenging to bring people in front of the camera to talk about such grave crimes at shelter homes? Especially officers sitting in their cabins.

Yes and no. The idea was that the cause kind of defies the means. The cause is such that we went through an altruistic path. There is no intention of trying to exploit the situation or make money out of their situation or to twist the narrative in any way that’s not going to help the cause. Once they see the authenticity and integrity, then the barriers come down. The idea is that you have to go there with a clear heart and mind.

Tell us about your team for such a project.

I have been blessed with a remarkable team. The team has chosen the project, not me. They love the project. I have one of the top audiographers, Gaurav Kumar Singh, who has worked on Super 30 (2019) and some big 'Bollywood' [commercial Hindi] movies. He, obviously, charges a bomb per day. But he came for next to nothing for this project. The same I would say for the beautiful soulful music by Rahul Bhatt. He said, "I want to do this project, whether you pay me or not." Of course, it’s not that I didn’t pay him.

The cinematographer and co-director Harsh Doshi has actually worked with homeless people in Kolkata. I could see that emotions were driving his work. Same with everyone else. When those emotions accumulate, you can see what comes out. I chose the editor Prithviraj Das Gupta because he said he wants to make a film on Rohingyas. They are stateless people left stranded in the middle and called terrorists and whatnot. They are as human as you and me. I then saw his work and said, you are the man.

What was the duration of the raw footage and how did you decide what to keep and what not to?

The raw footage was of 90 hours. When you shoot for 52 days, you are likely to get that number. The editing was happening during the pandemic. To be honest, Prithvi was doing it at his place and sharing the edits with me. I had a great deal of trust in his emotions. The first cut was four-and-a-half hours. Then we had to discuss and see where we agreed and where we didn’t and why. The result of the conversation is what we have right now.

How are you going to ensure that it has an impact and brings about a change by repealing these laws?

My job as a filmmaker is to provide the tool, the means to an end. You have the bureaucrats, politicians, lawmakers and stakeholders; they are the ones who have to take the decision. But they need to be aware of what those decisions [are] and why those decisions need to be taken. If I just tell you repeal the anti-beggary act without seeing the film, you will say, okay, yeah, fine, that’s good. But you won’t understand the humanity behind it until you see the film.

The film is a means to humanize them because they are the stateless people. Once you humanize them, they will only come to you and say we want to help. I have seen a lot of people do that after seeing the film. We did a screening at IIC [India International Centre, New Delhi], which is one of the most important centres for the screening of the film. We called a lot of secretaries from the government of India, people from various departments, some politicians, etc.