Mumbai filmmaker captures the city in its new normal avatar

Updated: May 20, 2020, 18:02 IST | Phorum Dalal | Mumbai

What is Mumbai without its buzz? Between congested slums and deserted roads, a filmmaker on volunteer duty captures the new normal

No crowds except this crow in the otherwise busy Kala Ghod
No crowds except this crow in the otherwise busy Kala Ghod

When lockdown 2.0 was announced, Hardik Patel volunteered to help an NGO film their efforts to feed the needy. The first day, when the 34-year-old filmmaker travelled to Vasai from his home in Andheri by car, it felt like driving into a dystopian movie set. "One of the busiest cities wore an eerie silence. It was a bit unnerving," says Patel, who runs Rolling Can Productions.

The film, shot from April 22 to May 3, was for a non-profit platform, FromU2them, and took him to slums in Dharavi, Colaba, Vasai-Virar as well as the central industrial kitchen in Wada, 140 kilometres from Mumbai. With a voiceover lent by Naseeruddin Shah, the two-minute film is a collaborative effort between Rolling Can Productions and Running Cow Films. The frames move from a bustling city to the now-familiar empty streets. The camera follows volunteers in their PPE suits during their distribution drives for the needy.

Volunteers in Virar ready to feed the hungry with hot khichdi
Volunteers in Virar ready to feed the hungry with hot khichdi

"On day one, I freaked while capturing a slum. Here, 150 people use one toilet; the concept of social distancing is impossible," says Patel, who followed a strict sanitising routine every day on his return home. "I would have a hot water bath with Dettol, take steam inhalation and drink ginger-turmeric in hot water; this was followed by a desi kadha to build immunity. I would wash my clothes separately. I would sanitise my three cameras and even the memory card," says Patel, who would meet his editor below Mahim bridge every night to transfer data into his laptop for editing.

Watch the video on YouTube

His shoots would begin at 5 am. "The empty streets gave me an opportunity to capture stills of Mumbai. I would be the only person driving down the Sea Link and Marine Drive. It felt apocalyptic. Even in the early evenings, when the sun would set, it made for an unsettling image," recalls Patel. His footage includes birds having a ball on the road, and a deserted Gateway of India and CSMT.

The sun sets on Marine Drive
The sun sets on Marine Drive

While shooting, Patel was conscious to not bring the camera too close to his own face. "The volunteers are the real heroes, and no amount of clapping and candle-lighting will do justice to appreciate their efforts. I watched them clock in 12 hours daily — preparing food, carrying it into the slums, distributing it so that nobody went hungry," he says.

The core team of 25 citizens includes lawyers, designers, CEOs, yoga instructors, CSR heads, and filmmakers who pooled in their skills. They work closely with local government authorities and non-profit organisations to create an authentic data base of families who have no access to food. Recently, they launched the 'adopt a family' template where donors can ensure aid for three months. So far, they have touched the lives of over 1.25 lakh people across Mumbai and have distributed over 3.5 million meals.

A volunteer at work in a Vasai slum
A volunteer at work in a Vasai slum

Throughout, Patel was touched by the "insaniyat" among Mumbaikars. "The virus has definitely brought us closer. Now we notice people smile with their eyes. Before the pandemic, we were so confident about our future, thanks to advances in technology. Now, we can only wonder what the new, post COVID-19 world will be," he signs off.

Hardik Patel
Hardik Patel

Log on to youtube.com (to watch the video) and https://www.ketto.org/fundraiser/fromu2them?payment=rd

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