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How a Dutch filmmaker shot an Indian documentary on his iPhone

‘In India, there’s enough space for everyone’s dreams’. These were the first words Andreas van de Laar was told by an Indian woman as he got on his flight to New Delhi from Amsterdam in 2017. All set to shoot an ambitious documentary on India’s development across sectors, little did he know what the next year had in store for him. “I was planning a big crew and funding but that never came through. A friend had gifted me a smartphone stabiliser/gimbal before I left to India and I felt that was going to be it. A one-man army with a phone,” says Andreas, adding, “If not for that, I would have gone back home.” Thus began the journey to One Point Seven — highlighting India’s 1.7 billion citizens and their role in governing the growing democracy — that releases on October 17 on Andreas’s YouTube channel.

India-centric

Cut to the five-part documentary’s second episode — aptly titled The Urban Debate — and it begins with a rather important statistic: By 2035, 17 of the 20 fastest growing cities in the world will be in India, with a few having populations larger than most countries. So, how do we effectively govern them? Such crucial questions are answered in the Dutch filmmaker’s series inspired by Jugaad Innovation, a book that highlights frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st Century.

How a Dutch filmmaker shot an Indian documentary on his iPhone

“I came across the book on a backpacking trip to India in 2016 and realised that just having a perspective doesn’t count. In order to solve problems, you have to understand them. Every country develops in its own way and we come from this US-centric vision of how the world should be. I wanted to highlight topics that were under exposed and I was curious how India would innovate and develop. The people in the film are doing really important stuff and making a difference is very important in my work,” says Andreas, who also wanted to “change the perception people have about India as a phenomenon in the 21st Century”.

Life in India
  • Andreas’ experience of travelling in India was in stark contrast of what he had heard from friends and seen in the media. “I was told about the country’s poverty, rape cases, warned that I would fall sick, etc. But during my 2016 trip, I had a great time and met some warm and genuine people. They gave me the confidence to come back and work on a project. I feel at home in Mumbai, Bir and Pune. I love the coffee!” There’s something he misses, however: cycling through the city, like he does back in Amsterdam. “In India, it’s just cabs and auto rickshaws, which isn’t healthy.”

Featuring 40 influential Indians such as Sunita Narain, Narayana Murthy, Kiran Majumdar, Siddhartha Benninger and Shashi Tharoor, it investigates India’s development in the areas of urban development and governance, healthcare, education and agriculture. Andreas, who worked as a journalist in Amsterdam, started the process by researching on India’s innovators and shooting mails to the people he wanted to speak with. He says his focus was on “getting a hold of the Indian pulse”. While a lot came from the book, he followed trends on social media, spoke to people and identified politicians with solution-based views. “80% of the outcome came from my research and 20% is based on recommendations by friends in India,” adds the 30-year-old.

Tough calls

But the road to creating the series wasn’t easy. Before he could start recording, his shooting device — an iPhone 7 plus — was stolen in New Delhi, where he was also facing issues finding a house. Andreas then left to Pune, bought an iPhone SE and shot the entire film on that. “People were expecting me with cameras and a big crew, but here I showed up with just a phone. They thought it was funny,” he laughs, adding how many personalities like Sunita Narain (of the New-Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment) were keen to learn more about the device. The idea then, he says, became all about creating as much value with the least resources — “just like India’s innovators”.

How a Dutch filmmaker shot an Indian documentary on his iPhone

One would think getting people on board and travelling across the country would be taxing. For Andreas, however, it was the funding process which was the longest and most stressful part of his journey. “The Dutch Embassy agreed to support the post-production. But the process took a year and I had also started a crowd funding campaign. At that time, I went to Bir, Himachal Pradesh, and decided to cut the wait short and edit it myself. It was only then I made the decision that it wasn’t going to be a film but a documentary.” When the funding did come through late last year, a major chunk went to his high school friend, Zeger de Vos, who composed the film’s music and worked on the sound design.

On the road

How a Dutch filmmaker shot an Indian documentary on his iPhone

After hosting screenings in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Manipal and now Chennai (as part of the Thinnai Talkies series), Andreas plans to take the film to New Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad and Udaipur. Post the documentary’s release in October, Andreas looks forward to travelling to the Northe ast and the Andaman islands and then take the film to the US for screenings. While he’s tight-lipped about the next documentary he’s researching on, all he reveals is it is based in Europe. “My job as a documentary filmmaker is to change and question stereotypes, and give people a more realistic view of what’s going on. One Point Seven has made me aware of the fact that there’s a lot more to explore and I am now sure that I won’t settle in Amsterdam. I will go back for lectures and speaking engagements to teach people about India.”

One Point Seven will be screened on August 20, 6.30 pm at Curio Play, Alwarpet, as part of Thinnai Talkies series, an initiative that highlights lesser-known documentaries and dialogues. To register, visit http://bit.ly/thinnai-talkies


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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 2:38:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/how-a-dutch-filmmaker-shot-an-indian-documentary-on-his-iphone/article29143234.ece

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