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The other side of the story

Anshul Sinha. Photo: Nagara Gopal  

It all began with a documentary on the bio-medical wastage in the city. Anshul Sinha’s documentary ‘The Unseen Disaster’ brought to light the callous way in which the government-run hospitals in the city were handling the bio-medical waste without following guidelines. It was during that time that Anshul got to know about Rajeshwar Rao and Satya Harischandra Foundation which paved the way for his new documentary ‘Gateway to Heaven.’ Anshul was haunted by Rajeshwar’s story for more than a year and in 2014 decided to tell the story through his fictional documentary. For the past 20 years, Rajeshwar Rao through his foundation has been performing last rites to the unclaimed dead bodies. Till now, he has performed last rites of 11,000 dead bodies in Hyderabad.

The 60-minute documentary with a mix of animation and fiction is set to premiere at Annapurna Studios on December 13 but sadly there are no distributors coming forward to release it. At Lamakaan, Anshul looks exasperated as he shows us the visuals of the documentary ‘Gateway to Heaven’. He recalls the hardships he faced to tell the story of one man and his mission. ‘The first person to be near an unclaimed dead body would always be Rajeshwar sir. All the details of panch nama, wallet and clothes are kept by the foundation so that if any relative comes, it can be provided. They keep the data and take photographs of the dead body and upload it on their website for people to check,” he shares.

Anshul recalls the horrifying experience when he met Rajeshwar Rao for the first time and saw the visuals of unclaimed dead bodies. “I saw dead bodies lying scattered and couldn’t eat food for a few days,” he recollects. The visual challenged the filmmaker in him. “I knew if I did not make the film now, my conscience will never forgive me. I had no money but decided to go ahead,” he says.

The aim was to make a hard-hitting documentary in a way that the images are not too gory but powerful enough to move even a kindergarten student.

With Rs. 40,000 in his pocket (earned from the international awards for his earlier films), Anshul began the documentary journey. Besides fiction, the documentary has also made use of pencil-sketches to highlight the international Minamata disaster. The story shows the hurdles Rajeshwar takes to perform the last rites, local organ mafia and his fight to legalise the system. Anshul claims many unclaimed bodies are packed off to Manipal and Goa for medical students. “If you see, freezers sometimes do not work in the hospitals and then there is this issue of organ trade. Rajeshwar sir is not against organ donation but he wants the authorities to follow procedures. There are also reports of patients ‘absconding.’ How can patients abscond from hospital beds?” he asks

To pool in some money, Anshul began working in a corporate company with night shifts. While Rajeshwar Rao is played by Rohit Chauhan a young theatre actor, the health minister’s role is by prof Satyabrata Rout and Zabiullah Syed Ismail plays the role of a mortuary guard.

Although the documentary was completed after facing many difficulties, the challenges did not end there. “The film took two years to make and it was almost like he ‘was with the dead bodies for two years. I worked for 18 hours a day and would just go directly to the sets after office. Although we had created dummy dead bodies, it felt real. Once the film got over, I went into severe depression and couldn’t sleep during the nights and used to recite Hanuman Chalisa.”

Anshul is waiting for distributors to release the film. “My main motto has been to create awareness and highlight an important issue. One man (Rajeshwar Rao) has been working relentlessly for the past 20 years. The least we can do is to support him and his cause,” he signs off.

Let there be transparency

Rajeshwar Rao is happy that a youngster has taken courage to make a hard-hitting documentary film like ‘Gateway to Heaven’; He says more youngsters should watch it to know the reality. “There should be human rights for the dead. There should be transparency and accountability in society,” he says.


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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 7:11:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/anshul-sinhas-fictional-documentary-gateway-to-heaven-tells-the-story-of-rajeshwar-rao-who-performs-the-last-rites-of-unclaimed-dead-bodies/article7933074.ece

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