It is an impractical but powerful idea: have smartphone, will become filmmaker.
This idea is the foundation of the crowd-sourced documentary India in a Day, produced by filmmakers Ridley Scott and Anurag Kashyap. The film is a result of a contest that encouraged participants to film their lives on October 10, 2015, and upload their videos to a Google website. A total of 16,000 videos were submitted, a distillation of which will be released in India on September 23.
Directed by Richie Mehta, the documentary turns 365 hours of footage into an 86-minute portrait of the country. India In A Day is the fifth installment in the series that began with Life In A Day (2011), about Great Britain, and covered Japan, Italy and Spain.
The film begins with several participants announcing the date of the shoot. They appear bewildered as well as excited by what lies ahead. This is followed by shots of people making videos while travelling in their cars and bikes. The participants seem perplexed about what to capture and whether the footage will be used at all.
As the documentary progresses, a familiar binary comes into view: urban versus rural India. People in the cities shoot their morning ablutions and walk around their houses and streets, documenting the comforting humdrum of their lives. People in the villages shoot serene landscapes and the natural beauty of their surroundings. The stark contrast is deftly handled by project editor Beverley Mills, who seamlessly blends one scene into another. The background music by Stephen Warbeck matches the mood of the sequence.
India predictably throws up several scenes of jubilation, where people celebrate birthdays and observe special occasions with singing and dancing. Food and music wind their way through many lanes and hearts.
In case you wondered whether that is all there is to this country, India In A Day then focuses on the hardships of poor and marginalised youth who work as manual labourers or beg on the streets for a living. Women working as scavengers and people identifying as transgender are shown slogging, but never without a smile.
As the film approaches the twilight hour, the mood shifts to time-lapse videos of brightly lit city streets and venues where young people gather to party. It’s almost a no-brainer as to what the rest of India does in the night when the film cuts to a village: a family huddles into a small room to watch a television soap.
The question of what India does in a day rarely goes beyond the obvious, though a few stories, such as a single mother’s existential crisis, and a bedridden old man’s dying wish to walk, give the film heft.
Sifting through 365 hours of footage to carve a story out of images of the mundane is a mammoth task. India In A Day might not be expansive, but it’s still an engaging insight into the sights and sounds of the country and what its citizens make of it.