Filmmaker Kireet Khurana’s hard-hitting documentary ‘The Invisible Visible’ throws light on the grim condition of millions of homeless in our country
National award-winning filmmaker Kireet Khurana announced a documentary that he describes is a crusade on behalf of India’s invisibilized millions. ‘The Invisible Visible,’ is an 81 minutes long documentary that will be released mid-2022 and was shot across Mumbai, Delhi, Patna, Dehradun, Kanpur and a few villages in Maharashtra and Bihar.
The film is explored through the gaze of social organization ‘Koshish’ which has helped countless traumatized homeless citizens including the survivors from the Muzaffarpur shelter.
Khurana speaks to Patriot on what went behind the making of his powerful documentary ‘The Invisible Visible.’ Excerpts:
Tell us a little about your journey into the world of filmmaking – how it began and how it’s going.
I come from a film background. My father – Bhimsain, was the quintessential Indian animation pioneer and subsequently an avant-garde film maker with multiple National awards under his belt. So, I grew up in a sensitive environment where stories and films were part of the DNA. Initially I gravitated more towards animation as I felt I had greater control over the production process – no need for expensive crews and actors. Subsequently, I moved more and more into the live-action space, working with live actors and shooting my films. However, in all of this I have remained a storyteller at heart. The medium and format is not important for me, I remain genre agnostic.
‘The Invisible Visible’ is a hard-hitting documentary that raises awareness, evokes emotions and calls for action for millions of homeless in our country. What prompted you to choose this topic or issue to depict on-screen?
Over the last 25 odd years, I have been making a lot of films on social causes. I have also made three feature films, two of which are on social causes. Besides this I have made commissioned short films and worked with organizations like UNICEF, Save the Children India, Childline and many more. These films have fetched me the prestigious 6 National awards. By virtue of my body of work in this space, I was invited to an elite group of social leaders in India – Aspire Circle. It’s here that I learnt of some great work by these leaders and their selfless dedication towards the causes that they had embraced.
At Aspire Circle, I also met Tarique Mohammed who runs an organization called Koshish, which is part of TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) and he works in the homeless space. I was astounded to learn that there are an estimated 70 million destitute in India and no one cares about them. Further the laws have criminalized poverty and these people are incarcerated for just being poor and being on the streets under the draconian anti-beggary act which is extremely discriminatory and unconstitutional. Tarique’s integrity, work and emotional sharing moved me to tears, and I decided to highlight the issues of the homeless through his eyes.
What was the research and shooting process like?
Once we had a great anchor for our story – Tarique and his team at Koshish, we were lucky to find Satvika Khera, a very strong human rights activist to come on board. She works in the child trafficking space and was keen to understand more about the audio-visual space of documentaries as well. Once Satvika was on board, things were easy. There were a bunch of bright interns who contributed towards the film. So, the research was solid.
For the shoot, we decided to travel wherever Koshish’s work took us across the country. We also wanted to get some repatriation stories of the homeless. We shot extensively for 52 days across several states, mainly Maharashtra, Bihar, UP and Delhi. We covered stories of the homeless, humanizing them. We spoke to important bureaucrats and stakeholders in this space including jurisprudence experts to get a holistic understanding of the draconian laws that criminalizes the poor. It was a heart-rending experience, but it also enriched the souls of the crew and made us better, more empathetic individuals.
Since your film boldly depicts the flaws in our very own system that acts as a deterrent often to eradicate poverty or homelessness – were there any obstacles from the authorities while shooting or during post-production?
Luckily, as we had the Koshish team as the anchor, they already know the loopholes and the people opposing such laws. They work with the homeless on a daily basis, providing them succor, food, medical attention etc. And the authorities do understand that this is a selfless humanitarian endeavor. They also understand the archaic 1959 anti-beggary law is unconstitutional and it needs to be repealed as there is no logic to it. Therefore, we weren’t stopped at any given point. In fact, many bureaucrats and support staff of local governments have spoken on camera about the issue and how we can help the poor.
What were the challenges you faced while making ‘The Invisible Visible’?
We had a great, committed crew which really believed that the narrative of the country towards the homeless should change. So, they poured their hearts out and really worked hard believing that change is around the corner.
The challenge came during the pandemic. As this was a self-funded film and the documentary was already shot, it suffered at the edit stage. We ran out of funds pretty soon. There were no financial backers for a film on the homeless. Therefore, we had to wait for our regular advertising work to resume, which happened around February this year. And funds from some of the projects we did were subsequently deployed to finish the film. The film was delayed by a year, but there wasn’t ever any doubt that the film would eventually get completed and see the light of the day.
What are your plans on releasing and promoting your documentary for a wider reach?
Since this is an ‘impact’ film, essentially, we are building the film as a catalyst for change in the ground. Therefore, NGOs and stakeholders in the domain of helping the homeless now have a tool to share with the bureaucrats, lawmakers and others which sensitizes them to the magnitude of the issues and the actual pain points.
We have already submitted the film to 3 major international festivals with the hope of getting selected. There are international NGOs who are potential partners for this film also to raise overall awareness and humanize these ‘invisibles’ on the streets. Therefore, we may see a lot of international buzz and interest. But for me the real success of the film will be when things change on the ground and the impact of the film goes to the last mile, ie. the homeless are provided shelters and the anti-beggary law is repealed. We may be at some distance from that, but the film is powerful in its communication and intent. It may take time to see actual change, but the momentum is there.
Any other projects that you are working on at present?
We are currently in the pre-production of our next feature film for which we have locked the principal cast. We shall be going on the floors soon. We shall be announcing the same very soon as we’re in the final stages of discussion with the co-producers.
(Cover: Poster of The Invisible Visible)