Debutant director Pawan K. Shrivastava’s film Naya Pata tries to decipher what the feelings of the thousands of Bihari migrants all over the country might be like, and the identity crisis that bogs them down

A young boy grew up in small-town Marhowrah Chapra, Bihar, a sugar-factory driven economy till the 80s, studying in a factory-run school. As workers and trade unions clashed, and the factories shut, their lives dramatically changed. As he grew up and grew out of Bihar, travelled to Allahabad, Delhi and Mumbai, the one narrative that kept confronting him was migration. Pawan K. Shrivastava, in his debut feature film Naya Pata, tells this story of his people, who live between two addresses and never find peace in either.

“Times have changed and the feelings of loneliness associated with human migration are not there so much today, thanks to technology. While we argue that in India today you have Whatsapp and videoconferencing, what about those who still worry about mobile call rates? The suffering is different for different classes of people. In the 1980s, when migration happened, it was very different. I have seen it from close quarters,” says Pawan, in a telephonic interview. “For me, the pain and homesickness has reduced in the last 16 years I have been away from Bihar. But, for everyone, it doesn’t.”

Naya Pata traces the life of Ram Swarath Dubey and his struggle to re-establish his lost identity. Set in the late 1980s, the film follows him through his becoming jobless when the sugar industry in Bihar shuts down and he migrates to New Delhi in search of livelihood, leaving behind his family.

It dwells on his sense of alienation from both the worlds he inhabits. When he finally decides to return to his roots, with the hope that going back “home” would turn out to be the answer to his loneliness and anxiety, his identity crisis worsens.

“I have looked at the intangible things behind migration. I haven’t talked about the struggle. I have talked about emotion. For youngsters of Bihar going out to study there is a circle of friends and they intermingle with people of that city. But, for someone going out of his home to earn his bread and butter, there’s no such social circle. So they look for their own kind, living in colonies and creating similar lifestyles like back in their village.”

Naya Pata is also being marketed as the first crowd-funded film to come out of Bihar. Pawan recalls the gruelling process of money trickling in.

He first borrowed Rs. 50,000 from his brother, did a recce of the places he wanted to shoot in, and floated a Facebook page. “I also wrote a mail to 150 friends and former colleagues requesting money and they forwarded it so that it reached about 1,500 people. Nearly 30 per cent of them got back in touch. A majority of the funding came from the Bihari Diaspora in Finland, Canada, Australia, because they identified with the story.”

The nine-member crew, from nine different Indian states — all fellow strugglers in the film industry in Mumbai — camped out with him in Bihar for over two months getting the film going.

Pawan had been in Mumbai learning filmmaking hands on, working as assistant to various directors, and getting involved in various stages of post-production. He shot the film in three schedules. The first was a 15-day schedule in Rohtak where the unit would run out of fund every five days. Many had promised funding, but it would be in the pipeline.

“On the day the money was sent, I would send the unit boy with an ATM card to the nearest town with an ATM to draw the money.” The second schedule he shot in his hometown and then the film was stuck for three months with no money.

The last leg, to be shot in Delhi was finally possible after a generous contribution from an immigrant in Australia who gave him Rs. 35,000. But then again Pawan was stuck for four months without funding for post-production. In stepped Praveen Sharma (and Pawan stresses that this former colleague wasn’t Bihari but Punjabi) who gave him Rs. 2.5 lakh to complete the film.

At a final cost of about Rs. eight lakh, it took Pawan persistence over two years and four months to see his film completed.

A screening he organised for 500 people got the buzz going on social media and very soon Shiladitya Bora, head of PVR Director’s Rare, was asking him when he wanted to release the film, says Pawan. Vartul Films came on board as corporate partner for the release.

Friends had told him his film didn’t have a structure or “plot”. But Pawan insisted on not subscribing to the standards of the film industry. “Life is not always full of dramatic incidents and accidents. Most people lead normal lives, where they live and die without much happening to them.”

Naya Pata releases on Friday under the PVR Director’s Rare banner in select cities across the country, including Bangalore.