Director: Richie Mehta
In 2015, Google announced a peculiar project. In association with Ridley Scott productions, it invited everyone living in India with a camera to record their day (October 10th), show them “one day of your life” and submit it to Canadian-Indian film director Richie Mehta via the portal — who would then make a real feature-length film with all the footage. It sounded, at best, a vastly gimmicky attempt to go all digitally new-age on us, potentially more damaging than eye-catching to the craft and medium they had chosen. At worst, it came across as a large-scale crash-course in non-fiction narrative editing for some unfortunate soul.
A year later, as we watched the result of this ambitious experiment, it became an oddly lyrical experience. This isn’t simply a musical montage of little snapshots put together. Well, it is, but it’s an honest, unfiltered and kaleidoscopic view of a boundless country that never ceases to surprise. It’s not simple gentrification or wah-wahing; there’s the good, boring, bad and ugly and everything in between for us to recognise, observe and react to. It’s also a great way to travel around the country in 88 minutes, without taking a step.
We see little narratives of different faces — all kinds of them, across genders, regions, races and emotional bandwidths — jostling together for space in a collection of time. A young single mother in Delhi takes a breather from childcare and introspects deeply at her window, recording all her thoughts, using her opportunity both as therapy and individual expression simultaneously. Flaky-looking college mates in the South invite us on their bike trip to an undisclosed location — later, we see the culmination of their little journey, at the only Indian dhaba ever to be run by transgendered folks. Suddenly, the boys’ faces become endearing, and we gently berate ourselves for judging them so early: they even surprised us and structured it like a heartwarming video. Elsewhere, we see a middle-aged, pleasant-looking man — an actor by profession — taking us to his terminally ill brother’s house to celebrate his birthday together. We don’t know much about their lives, their history and future, but in that moment, placed in between dozens of little memories, they touch us. They move us, as does the very perceptive and vibrant soundtrack by Stephen Warbeck, which seems to magically understand the chaos in Mehta’s vision.
Together with (miraculous) editor Beverly Mills, they create a genuinely poignant, endearing, patient, moody, extensive, versatile and very cinematic (out of amateur untreated footage!) work that will serve as a fantastic time capsule for future generations. Even when some of the quieter, wordless moments appear like soothing sections of Nat-Geo programs, they exist for a reason, changing the tone and spiritual gears of the film just at the right time for the more kinetic and jumpy path ahead.
This, in 2016, is India, and perhaps there is no better existing video out there to represent it. More importantly, it is cobbled together by people who seem to be genuinely curious and appreciative of a culture that has so many different hues. It must have been a massively complicated — but rewarding — task to make sense of so many variables of sense, and yet respect each one of them in context of their language and background. We feared the epidemic of exoticization, given that 16000 Indians sent in their submissions; many photographically superior ones sent in from the North-East, and melodramatic and consciously filmy ones from the rural belts of the country. There were many middle-class urban moments of families, students, babies and college-going kids, but eventually they all seamlessly merged into one another without obvious echoes of classism or selection bias.
India in a Day is a rare experiment that works well within the realm of what it tried to achieve. It demonstrates the best of the internet, crowdsourcing, inherent artistry (in everyone), voices and the mating of individuality in a country that is fast turning into a plural entity. For a nice little distraction from the instability of 2016, from the deafening politics, oversensitive authorities and relentless controversies, this takes us back (and ahead) to where life still carries on. Irrespective of what the world is doing.