It was the intriguing and disturbing concept of caste that led documentary filmmaker Shruti Gupta to explore it in her recent film titled Kathputli. “Unfortunately, I didn’t need to search far and wide for inspiration,” says Gupta. “Like countless Indians, I had my fair share of front row seats to quite a few real-life dramas in and outside my home where people were treated badly because of their caste. The likening of a living, breathing human being with that of a puppet that does not possess a life of its own and is thoroughly controlled by others really got me to do something,” she says about the film which puts the subject of manual scavengers under the scanner, with Gupta writing, directing and editing the film. The film has secured the second position in the Savitribai Phule Mullanpur Ludhiana Short Film Festival, organised by National award-winning director Rajeev Kumar.
Gupta hopes Kathputli brings awareness to the pitiful conditions of the sewage cleaners, who are risking their lives while not being provided with better pay and safety gear. “Society as a whole takes advantage of the social vulnerability of these people and I hope we no longer treat them like we treat our waste, ‘out of sight, out of mind’, because they are here and they are here to stay,” adds the 27-year-old.
For the film, Gupta went out into the streets of Delhi alone, without a crew, with a single camera, which she says was the easy part. Getting people to talk and come forward and share their experiences on camera was difficult, which Gupta wasn’t prepared for. “They just didn’t want to put it on record. Fear of losing their meagre livelihood was the main reason for not coming forward. I salute those bravehearts who did come forward and made this documentary possible,” says Gupta, a graduate from Delhi University, for whom the journey of filmmaking began with her love for photography.
Change, adds Gupta, is inevitable, but at the rate with which our society is moving, she feels we need thousands of small documentaries to inspire people to move towards change for the better. “I sincerely hope that Kathputli succeeds in highlighting the futility of caste and how countless issues and problems in India have their roots stemming from caste system.” she says.