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Power to the people

After garnering international acclaim,Katiyabaaz,a documentary film on Kanpur’s abysmal electricity shortage,hopes to make an impact on the Indian audience with its screening at the Mumbai Film Festival

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: October 3, 2013 3:02 am

Towards the end of Katiyabaaz,a documentary that explores electricity theft in Kanpur,Loha Singh,one of the protagonists of the film,gets drunk in a dingy watering hole in the city,and vents his anger and frustration at a fellow drinker. He laments his fall from being a local hero — who illegally provides electricity to the people of Kanpur — to a thief,who has been rendered jobless by the apparent balance restored in the city’s power supply. For directors Delhi-based Fahad Mustafa,27 and Ghaziabad-based Deepti Kakkar,28,who were at a distance with their cameras,Singh’s emotional outpouring was unexpected.

“Of course the cameras are there and they are miked in and people are standing around,but everyone is actually trying really hard to disappear and let the scene play out. And then if you are lucky something happens. Sometimes it is your job to build it together into cinema,” says Mustafa,who spent his childhood in Kanpur,followed by a move to Austria and has currently settled in Delhi.

Throughout its 80-minute run-time,the film captures many such moments where real people like Singh become dramatic characters. Katiyabaaz pits Singh against Ritu Maheshwari,the newly appointed Kanpur Electricity Supply Corporation (KESCO) boss,who wants to mend Kanpur’s long-standing problem of power shortage. It shows the clashes between two opposing ends of the power struggle — Maheshwari and Singh.

It’s one of the gravest problems the city faces,and lies in the imbalance of demand and supply of power. While the people,infuriated at the long hours of power cuts,demand radical action against KESCO,the power company has a point when it says that there are payment issues,which has resulted in shortage of funds to generate enough power. It’s a vicious circle. Fahad is familiar with the problem. After returning to the city to film its “decline” — the city is called the “Manchester of the East” twice in the film — he was led to the subject of Katiyabaaz.

With a 12-member crew,the team shot the film over two years. In its journey to explore the issue in all aspects,the film touches upon roles people play: from local politicians to the bigwigs in the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party — Manmohan Singh,Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati,who are seen addressing crowds at rallies with power shortage as the core issue.

As with Singh,the film manages to get inside the domestic happenings of Maheshwari’s life too. They’ve even ventured into the KESCO quarters,where she is filmed dealing with officers or political leaders. For Mustafa and his team,it was initially tough to get through bureaucratic obstacles. “Initially we did not plan to involve KESCO in the shooting at all. But once we started exploring the issue,we decided that the narrative is incomplete without looking at what is happening there,” he says.

Mustafa and Kakkar,who have a production house,Globalistan Films,spent months working out permissions,and making trips to meet the chief at Lucknow Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited,the body that sells power to KESCO. “When we finally met the chief,it was 11pm. We had been waiting with people who were pitching tenders worth hundreds of crores. It was a little awkward,but we convinced him to let us film him at work,” says Mustafa.

After an encouraging response at international film festivals,including Berlinale and Tribeca,the film has now been selected for the India Gold section at the 15th Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) that will take place from October 17-24. “Our real aim is to bring the film to India. Many good documentary films in India are never seen by people. We hope we get an opening with MFF,” says Mustafa.

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