30-year-old documentary filmmaker is in love with innovative India
A 30-year-old documentary filmmaker from Amsterdam, moved lock, stock and barrel in 2017, to capture the 'Make In India' story on his iPhone
Dutch filmmaker Andreas Van De Laar likes to call himself a "jugaadu". It's how the 30-year-old Amsterdammer has been getting by in India, since his arrival here in 2017, to work on his documentary, One Point Seven. With just an iPhone, steadicam, and sponsored laptop in tow, Van De Laar is making a five-part series, which captures India's innovation story in the field of urban development, governance, healthcare, education and agriculture, and among other things, explores solutions for the country to grow sustainably.
"We shouldn't waste people's time, particularly children's time, and I think we are doing that a lot today... we are wasting their time. That bit needs to be changed quickly, if we want to get better productivity in society," Dr Sugata Mitra, who conceived the Hole-in-the-Wall Education Project — a path-breaking learning methodology — is heard saying in the opening lines of Van De Laar's chapter on education, The Learning Curve. Mishra's sound byte is immediately juxtaposed with Van De Laar's voice over, which we are told was recorded under the sheet of his bed, to cut any external sounds and frequencies, due to the sheer lack of a studio set-up. "All jugaad," says the filmmaker, when we meet him at a restaurant in Bandra, on a weekday morning. "Initially, I wanted to make a film with a certain budget and crew. But, I soon realised that as I was making a film about how
to do smart things with as little as possible, the way I make it, should also reflect that."
Pune-based Siddhartha Benninger, the founder of the Quantified Cities Movement, is one of the people featured in the film. Benninger works with citizens who document their city with pictures and sound-clips to get an idea of where improvements can be made, which he then shares with the press and the local municipal corporation. Pic courtesy/Andreas Van De Laar, One Point Seven
But Van De Laar's documentary, an episode of which is now available on his eponymous YouTube channel, doesn't give-away the stop-gap arrangements he came up with, for his crowd-funded project. Tightly scripted with sharp edits and affecting music by his friend Zeger de Vos, Van De Laar's film got its due, when the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, agreed to support the project last year. The filmmaker has now begun screening his film in private spaces across cities, so that he can expose Indians to the new-changing India that caught his attention. "At this moment, Europe is standing still. I don't think we are experiencing the kind of changes that are going on in this country. As a filmmaker, I wanted to capture how people in India are coming up with innovative ideas to push the country forward. I see an aspirational mentality that I lost, because of being in my comfort zone in Netherlands," says the alumnus of Denmark's European Film College.
Van De Laar's romance with India first began in 2015, when disillusioned by the kind of work he was doing back home — Van De Laar was a camera journalist and also produced music videos — he decided to take a long vacation to India, in the hope that "vipasanna" would help him find new meaning to life. He, instead, ended up going on a backpacking trip, where he met a lot of Indians, who "explained to me how fast India was growing". "Soon after that I found the book Jugaad Innovation. I was very curious how such a large country like India was developing and decided that I wanted to make a film inspired on the book. I contacted the authors Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu, and they put me in touch with some of the changemakers in India," he says.
Only 26 then, Van De Laar decided to return to Amsterdam and save up to fund the project. When he returned, he was able to fix appointments with MP Shashi Tharoor, Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder Biocon, among 40 others. "When I had my meeting with Shashi Tharoor I ended up at the wrong terminal at the airport in Mumbai. Flights were too expensive, and so, I decided to take the unreserved train to Delhi, which was a big adventure standing for so long. I reached exhausted, but just in time for the interview," he recalls.
The filmmaker is now, on the final leg of his documentary and is working on the last episode on agriculture, for which he will be travelling to the hinterlands of Maharashtra. While most people he approached were forthcoming and agreed to be part of his project, he has faced a few rejections, too. "I am yet to hear from Mr [Narendra] Modi and Mr [Amit] Shah. But, I am not giving up," he says.
What he hopes to tackle are European stereotypes about India. "When I came here, people warned me that this was a diseased country and that I could get sick. The only thing that people know about India is that there is rape, poverty and disease. It's so ridiculous to demonise a country that has a larger population than yours, and represent it inaccurately. I would like to invite these people to come to India, and see this place for themselves. They need to experience this country and how fascinating it is, because India lets you grow in a healthy way."
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