A short film about RTI is being shown in theatres across India, before the main movie. The author finds out why.

An animation professional in Mumbai has earned the right to inspire by being, simply, an inspiring citizen. Since 2009, Dhvani Desai has filed 100 Right To Information requests both for herself and to solve the problems of friends, family and strangers. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because it appears in the credits of Chakravyuh, the Films Division clip to be shown across the country in all theatres before the main feature film from this month. Chakravyuh was first shown at a public meeting in Mumbai on October 12 this year, the eighth anniversary of the RTI Act.

“Seeking information through the RTI Act is very simple and straightforward,” says Dhvani, an award-winning designer who runs her own animation company. “Delay in getting one’s ration card, gas connection, pension etc. can be solved fairly easily through the RTI route. But there is not enough awareness and that is why I decided to use animation to make a film.” Her earlier film Manpasand was shown at various film festivals.

Chakravyuh showcases four stories from different parts of the country. Householder Braganza dies in Goa, and his wife runs from pillar to post trying to get a job. Mohammad in Uttar Pradesh lives in a well-lit street, but is unable to get an electricity connection for his house. Pillai in Kerala is unable to get the garbage cleared in his neighbourhood despite endless appeals to the civic authorities. A farmer in West Bengal fights all his life for a piece of land.

The film suggests that if only these people had the right information, they would not get caught in a vicious circle of non-governance, corruption and official indifference.

The Right to Information Act 2005, which mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information, was the first law in independent India that made a government officer accountable for non-performance. This law, called “Freedom of Information” across the world, was first introduced in Sweden in 1766.

“Contrary to what many people perceive, RTI is not something one uses to punish a government servant. It is a simple device that helps bring a problem to the notice of the government’s person in charge of solving it,” points out Dhvani when asked if she is not scared for having used the RTI Act so often. “When you ask for information under this Act, the officer has to send a reply by post to your home within 30 days in normal cases and within 48 hours if it is a matter of life and death. This information makes the officer do his duty immediately. If officials do not comply, they can be fined up to Rs.25,000. ”

Dhvani’s first RTI was filed when she found that her mother had malaria and that the local authorities were not clearing garbage in their area. Since then, garbage has not been a problem. “The positive results of RTI made me feel so empowered that I wanted others to feel the same way,” says Dhvani. A citizen only needs to get a Rs.10 court fee stamp or a Rs.10 postal order to file an RTI application.

Wouldn’t the film have been more useful if it had shown how and where to file an RTI request? “The idea of making the film was to spread awareness. In three minutes, I wanted to show as many common problems that people faced as possible. Once there is awareness, the route becomes very clear.”

The film uses paper collage as a base for a reason. The idea is to show how we are surrounded by information, yet most citizens either do not see the information or forget to use it. “If we focus on right information, then problems get solved easily,” says Dhvani, whose most recent RTI appeal helped a senior citizen get his ration card.

Using a poem composed by Sanskar Desai, Dhvani’s filmmaker brother, Chakravyuh aims to empower the common citizen. Now playing, most probably, at a theatre near you.