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Documentary film ‘Lords of Lockdown’ is about four unsung heroes who rose to the occasion during the lockdown in 2020

A still from documentary ‘Lords of Lockdown’

A still from documentary ‘Lords of Lockdown’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Starting in the last week of March 2020, when the country went into lockdown, Ruben Mascarenhas with a group of volunteers began to distribute food to people, mostly migrant workers on their way back home, along Mumbai’s Western Express Highway. Most were migrant workers on, what became, their days-long trek back home. Through their NGO, Khana Chahiye, the volunteers relentlessly providing food to the needy, despite the challenges of the pandemic.  

Ruben is one of the four ‘heroes’ in the feature-length documentary Lords of Lockdown, directed by Mihir Fadnavis and produced by Anurag Kashyap and Navin Shetty. The documentary, which captures the immediate aftermath of the pandemic when the world came to a standstill, had its premiere at the New York Indian Film Festival in May 2021.

The poster of ‘Lords of Lockdown’

The poster of ‘Lords of Lockdown’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The others featured in the documentary are AK Singh, the then Inspector General, Railway Protection Force (RPF), Western Railways, urogynecologist Dr Aparna Hegde and journalist Rana Ayub. Lords of Lockdown follows the journey of the aforementioned names in real-time. While AK Singh was instrumental in restarting trains out of Mumbai which helped move migrants back home, Aparna made house visits and provided treatment to pregnant women from slums and low-income backgrounds without access to hospitals. And Rana Ayub, on the other hand, distributed food supplies in and around Dharavi with her team.

Mihir Fadnavis says he felt “something big was happening” as COVID-19 was spreading across the world and he wanted to document it. With the producers’ go-ahead, he started research on pharma companies and a potential vaccine that was in the works.

The plan changed when he saw the extent of work volunteers like Mascarenhas were doing. The pandemic was a big story, but the bigger one was hunger. “People were not getting food…hunger was exploding around us. That was the key issue and nobody seemed to be talking about it.” And that is how hunger became the focus.

“A lot of what we know now was not known then. We had to be cautious and not catch the virus. If we gave it to them the whole system would have been jeopardised,” he adds. 

Fadnavis spent six months filming, following his people as they went about doing relief work. Unscripted, the documentary was a reality that was playing out on its own. “The sight was apocalyptic — an exodus of people walking barefoot. We never stop to think about the things we have. For example, a roof over our heads, getting three meals on time. We came out of that bubble of privilege. It was hard to absorb.”  Watching, filming and not being able to do much was as traumatic as it was scary.

Fadnavis stuck to DSLR cameras and phone for filming. The only time he used a Red camera was when he had to capture the city eerily silent and without its milling crowds. “It is such a surreal image, we used it to capture the cinematic effect of an isolated Mumbai.”    

At the end of six months, having filmed for 14-15 hours daily, he amassed reams of footage. Cutting it down to two hours was not easy. “The challenge was to follow one path as you should with a documentary. The focus, we decided, would be hunger, the wealth gap and the heroes who rose to the occasion.” Although the entire process, from filming to post-production, lasted around a year-and-a-half or so, it felt like 10 years, he adds. 

“Thousands of people were affected, there was fear but a story had to be told and I was not going to give up,” he signs off.


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2022 5:00:41 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/documentary-film-lords-of-lockdown-is-about-four-unsung-heroes-who-rose-to-the-occasion-during-the-lockdown-in-2020/article65529044.ece