A documentary film Kavi, produced by a couple of Indians, has been sent to the Oscars to be announced on March 8

S ceptics may call it a stereotype, but screen depictions of India's poverty, whether realistic or romanticised, have always had plenty of takers among viewers of the West.

Some would go so far as to say that films on issues like bonded labour, beggars at city intersections, drug addiction on the pavements, are high on the list of potential award winners.

So perhaps it's not surprising that Kavi, a 19-minute documentary on a young bonded labourer in Maharashtra, produced by Harish Amin and Guneet Monga and directed by United States-based research scholar Gregg Helvey, found an easy entry to this year's Academy Awards. Kavi, hence, has become India's only official entry to the Oscars in the Live Action Short Film section.

A moving tale

The film, recently screened at the Press Club of India, Delhi, is a moving tale of a nine-year-old child labourer, Kavi, whose father, a construction worker, is under a debt of Rs.10,000 from a construction site manager.

The manager, hence, keeps Kavi as a bonded labourer till the debt is paid back. He tempts the boy with the promise of permission to play cricket with the school boys of his age who come to the site every day, and makes him work extra hard.

When some social workers reach the site with police, the manager rushes all the workers, including his parents, to another site, and Kavi, the best worker, is tied with a chain in an isolated corner.

He somehow manages to slip his bleeding his wrist out of the chain and rushes to the social workers. The film concludes with Kavi asking them if he would be able to find his parents.

With great editing by Chris Witt and acting by Sagar Salunke as Kavi and Ulhas as the manager, the film, Amin says, was shot over three years intermittently, owing to lack of finances.

Surprise entry

Clarifies Amin: “We shot the film two years before Slumdog Millionaire was shot, and we could never think it could be sent to the Oscars but Slumdog Millionaire paved the way. Actually, the film was a part of Gregg's research thesis on rehabilitation for which he travelled in India for a year and a half. Later he turned it into a documentary.” Shot at Wai, in Maharashtra, the documentary has already been sent to over 50 film festivals across the world and won some 14 awards.

Ever since the film came to the notice of people, Kavi, the real boy and the bonded labour who works in a brick kiln in Maharastra, has been showered with sponsorships to take care of his studies.

Now Sagar, with Amin and Guneet, has gone to see what fate has in store for them at the Oscars.

RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN

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