DOCUMENTARY Where There Are No Roads is as much a statement on the might of the Brahmaputra as on the promise held out by a boat clinic project that delivers healthcare to a million people living by the river

Thinking differently often makes a difference. Where There are No Roads , a 48-minute documentary, drives home this point effectively. The film, directed by FTII-trained Assamese filmmaker Maulee Senapati, is about a public-private best practice being carried out in 13 districts of Assam since 2005 by the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES). The project was launched in collaboration with the state government’s National Rural Health Mission. C-NES and NHRM run 15 boat clinics to provide basic health facilities to a million-strong population living along the 760 km course of River Brahmaputra, cut off from the rest of the state, and therefore from several essential services. Their situation worsens during the yearly floods; several succumb to illnesses owing to non-availability of medical care .

Senapati and his crew chased this story for a year to come up with frames that beautifully evoke the silence of the river and capture through innovative angles its monsoonal fury. It also brings to us the human story, the dedication of the staff of the clinics — from doctors and nurses to the boat drivers and helpers and how they remain away from home for days together, live on the boats, put their life on the line during the floods to serve the unserved even if monetary benefit is minimal.

With the experience of filming Brahamputra for his earlier documentary for C-NES on river dolphins, Senapati says the physical challenge was not so big “even though shooting in a boat on a huge river can be boring as the landscape doesn’t change for a long time.” What posed a challenge was capturing the emotions of the people on camera. “These people have suffered for so many years that they talk matter of factlyabout the loss of their home, family and farming land,” says Guwahati-based Senapati. The film also throws light on crucial health problems relating to Assam, such as its maternal mortality rate, the highest in India. The script by Sanjoy Hazarika, director of C-NES and the film’s producer, is taut. Hazarika came up with the idea of a documentary after he heard about these people who do not have access to even basic health care. “I felt the simplest and the best way to reach out to them was through the boat that serves as their lifeline. But the boat had to be designed to carry medical teams, medicines and equipment,” recalls Hazarika. His design for the boat won him an award from the World Bank and helped him fund his dream project. In mid-2005 Hazarika came up with a boat complete with an OPD, a laboratory, cabins for the medical staff, medicine chest, kitchen, toilets, crew quarters, a general store, a generator set and a 200 litre water tank. C-NES tied up with Dibrugarh administration to offer basic medical services to people in the district. The services were gradually expanded to other district too. Next, UNICEF offered to help. So did the NHRM. And rest as they say is history.

“We are now building a boat hospital. It will have an operation theatre, a delivery room and separate wards for men and women among other facilities,” says Hazarika with pride.