What was life in 2020 when India, the world’s most populated democracy, was held hostage indoors by a virus?
Filmmaker Bharat Bala’s new documentary ‘Meendum Ezhuvom’ (We Will Rise) is a record for generations to come. Surreal images of empty lanes, deserted railway stations, sleeping cities and desolate places of worships emerge from this spectacle photographed by his team of 15.
Opening with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a lockdown on March 24, the documentary transports viewers across 14 states, stretching from Kashmir to Kerala and spanning between Gujarat and Assam.
As it draws to a close, there is hope when a woman says: “[I] don’t know what happened. In a moment everyone’s life has changed. But the sun will rise tomorrow and we too will rise together.”
“In a country where people don’t even stop at a red traffic light, how can you keep 1.3 billion people in lockdown?” asked Bala in a chat with Gulf News.
The filmmaker, who is remembered for his ‘Vande Maatram’ music videos, continued: “With the eerie feeling of facing an invisible enemy, I felt as a filmmaker and creator it’s critical for me to document pan India. How do I see and feel an empty and silent India — something that never existed in this 5,000-years-old culture?”
Operating from Mumbai, Bala took to virtual direction as he guided his crew over WhatsApp across the 14 states. Hopping digitally, he visited the empty Benaras ghats (piers), took in the silence of Srinagar’s Hazrathbal shrine and the deserted VT station of Mumbai.
“There were not even pigeons in the empty stations,” he added. “At Haridwar and Rishikesh, you could see the pebbles in the Ganges.”
Getting permission to film during lockdown was the big hurdle.
“Uttar Pradesh was the first state to support us,” said the filmmaker. “It was an unbelievable thing, but the states understood the vision.”
The documentary has been made in 11 languages, including English, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Assamese, and is now streaming on YouTube.
“People should never forget what we went through as a nation so that when we come out and start gathering ourselves to move forward, we make responsible decisions and better choices. We have seen the pain of the migrants. This is a reset opportunity. And, it’s about rising collectively as a nation,” he added.
Bala, who last made the critically acclaimed Tamil film ‘Maryan’, will next work on a web series. His ongoing project, ‘Virtual Bharat’, comprises short films that narrate human interest tales from different parts of India, which is streaming on YouTube.
‘Virtual Bharat is the result of 20 years of research and includes over 300 stories. His aim is to make 1,000 stories over the next five years.
“From July onwards we will be releasing two films a month,” he said.