Over the last few months I’ve been working on a production with WaterAid called ‘Across the Tracks’. We have created a short documentary, an extended version film, as well as a long form multimedia piece, which gives more depth to the story and information behind the Clean India campaign.
The Clean India campaign launched around this time last year by the Indian Prime Minister Modi. This has an ambitious target of a toilet for every household by 2019. 2.5 million toilets have been built. However, more than 100 million more must be constructed by 2019 to meet the target – that’s 70,000 toilets every day. This film explores how something as simple as a toilet can help transform lives by following the story of one ambitious mother in Uttar Pradesh.
Radha Verma, determined to protect her daughter after she narrowly escapes a physical attack, builds one of the first toilets in Rakhi Mandi slum, home to 3,500 people in one of India’s largest cities – Kanpur.
I was very lucky to work with an amazing crew on this production.
Drone operator: Nikhil Thakkar
Translators: Saumya Iwn & Alka Pande
Composer: Benji Merrison
My role whilst in production was second camera and photographer. I shot mostly with the Canon 5D Mark 3, Chris shot with the C100 and we swapped over at times. It was a brilliant experience to learn and develop my skills at shooting in difficult urban environments and to assist Catherine and Chris during the filming days. There are obviously some challenges when filming in these types of conditions such as noise, the heat, the kit struggling and overheating in the mid-day sun. Working in a busy location was also interesting, especially when Nikhil, our drone operator, got his equipment out - there was a lot of crowd control involved! In post production, I assisted on a few initial edits and cut a few portraits, then Chris came in with fresh eyes and edited the film beautifully. Putting together our multimedia piece was a really brilliant part of the project. It was excellent to be able to combine writing, photography and film to tell the story in more depth through the Shorthand platform.
Rakhi Mandi is an illegal slum in Kanpur and home to around 3,500 people. In such a colourful and busy environment, there was always something you wanted to film or photograph. In the initial first few days, we just wanted to get to know the slum, the people and hear their stories. One of my favourite parts of the shoot was spending time with people, collecting stories and taking their photograph. Unfortunately, we couldn’t include everyone’s stories in the final film.
One of the most amazing ladies I met was Ram Bitoli.
Ram, unsure of her age, moved to Rakhi Mandi with her husband and children when her youngest son was very small. She lost her sight 9 years ago, quite suddenly. One day out of the blue, her sight was unusual and the sun turned red. She couldn’t get any medicine, and since then her sight has completely deteriorated. From that point, going to the toilet has been a huge problem. Every time she would have to go to the toilet, one of her family members or neighbours would have to take her to somewhere near the railway line. If there wasn’t time, they would just take Ram outside the home, in the open space where everyone could see her, and make her go there. Her husband, Nanhe Lal, died 2 years ago. She speaks of him very fondly, he would help her clean, do the cooking and look after her. They had an amazing marriage and she misses him very much, “I often cry for my husband.”
Today, her son, Sanju Kumar, roughly 22 years old, is helping to construction her toilet. He told me how he gave up a brilliant job opportunity in the city to look after his mother, and how much he loves her. Ram describes her children as her ‘lifeline and comfort” and ‘golden children’. She says, “Once this toilet is built, all my pain will be gone!”. Ram would often not eat during the day, to prevent her from needing the toilet. She ended our time together by saying “the future is bright!”
I feel blessed to have met her and had the opportunity to take her photo.