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How Vinod Kapri Paid Back Migrants For Helping Shape Docu 1232 KMS

This is How Vinod Kapri Paid Back Migrants For Helping Shape His Docu ‘1232 KMS’

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Vinod Kapri, a journalist and filmmaker, travelled with seven migrant labourers who cycled 1,232 kms to reach home during the coronavirus lockdown. Kapri documented their journey and struggles, and now 1232 KMS is all set to release on Disney+Hotstar VIP. Speaking to The Quint, the filmmaker opened up about his biggest challenge while shooting the documentary and how he thanked the seven men who helped shape his film.

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When the lockdown was announced no one thought about the migrants. When did you realise what had happened?

Vinod Kapri: A day after the lockdown was implemented I saw a number of pictures on TV, where thousands of migrant labourers were on the streets. There were stories of people travelling for 700kms, 800kms, 1000kms. Some by foot, some by cycle. I had some questions on my mind. Are they being able to reach home? Even if they do reach home how are they doing it? What difficulties are they facing on the road? Are they getting food to eat or water to drink? Do they get a place to rest at night? If their cycle breaks down what would they do? If they fall sick how are they going to manage? All these questions were there on my mind. And I have tried to travel with them almost three times. In my first attempt there was a mother with her three children, who were travelling 500kms from Delhi to Kanpur. I was travelling with them. But mid-way I lost touch with them. I travelled for around 200 to 250kms. It was an extremely painful journey for me. Maybe you remember, the complete journey was put out by The Quint. They made a wonderful 10-minute documentary on it. After that there was another urge because that journey remained incomplete.

I attempted twice to document but every time it was left incomplete. Either we were scared of contracting COVID or we were worried about the crew. But I was determined to complete at least one journey because this kind of exodus was last seen in 1947, when thousands of people were seen on the streets walking towards their homes. So I felt it’s very important to document this no matter what I have to pay for it.
Vinod Kapri, Filmmaker

Like you said, you travelled with the migrants, documenting them. Tell us about that journey. What was the most challenging part? Dealing with the emotions or physical fatigue?

Vinod Kapri: The biggest worry for me was that journalists, filmmakers, documentary filmmakers are always told that you are like vultures. That means you try to earn profit by capturing others’ tragedies. That was my biggest fear. Because a very big tragedy was unfolding before us and we were documenting that. So the biggest challenge was to do our work and document the journey with sensitivity. One thing that was really bothering us was - we had heard so many incidents about people getting run over by a train in Maharashtra, and others getting killed in truck accidents elsewhere. So that was the thing that we were very worried about, that the people whom we are travelling with they should not face any mishap. They should not go through any tragedy because of which we will not be able to forgive ourselves. Because we had made a pact with them on how we will work with them. We told them that in an hour we will only shoot for 10 to 15 minutes and we will shoot from a distance and won’t come close to them.

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We told them, 'You all can do whatever you want. However you want to ride the cycle, stop wherever you want. You won't face any issue because of us'. Apart from being a filmmaker or a journalist there is also a human inside you. Once we met a guy named Mukesh. He had not eaten for more than 16 hours. We also tried a lot but when we couldn't get food we gave him some biscuits and bananas. But even then it was not enough. That boy fainted at night. He fell while riding the cycle. So we made him sit in our car and took him to a point. Whenever their cycles had a flat tyre, we would assist them. Because they were seven people we didn't have room for all in our small WagonR. At that time we couldn't even rent a taxi because taxis were not running because of COVID and everyone had refused. So we also had our limitations. But one thing we tried was that even if we were doing our work we ensured that if the people are going through some crises we stood by them. It didn't matter if our film got made or not. This was a conscious decision we took and we helped them a number of times.

These were real-life characters, not actors. They were real people who you documented. If you were making a film you would pay the actors. What did you do for these real-life characters personally? Have you paid them or going to pay them or helped them in some other way. Anything like that?

Vinod Kapri: Yeah, I have. What do I say? Because you have asked me I’ll surely tell you. These seven people are not a very integral part of my family and life. When we decided that this documentary will release on Disney+Hostar VIP, I told them that whatever amount I get from this, a big chunk I want to give it to these migrant labourers. During Diwali I called all seven of them home and celebrated with them. That’s when we gave them the money. They were shocked. The second thing is, my book on this journey is getting published in both English and Hindi. So we have decided that whatever we earn by selling the books will be given to these workers. No matter what we do that’s also less. We should do more for them. For me it was not just a journey to get them home, it’s a journey of life.

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When you all started shooting this documentary, COVID was at its peak. How many people were there in your team? What precautions did you all take and what difficulties did you face?

Vinod Kapri: The first challenge was that no crew agreed to come with us. To make a documentary you need at least a crew of seven to eight people. Having a good car was essential because it was such a long distance, but we didn’t bother about it. We said it’s a risk and we decided to take that risk. So we were only two people. Me and my assistant. We used to do sound, camera and direction. One of the problems that cropped up was lodging and food, because all hotels were shut. And what used to happen was when we would reach a dhaba, the guys would refuse food thinking that because we were coming from Delhi we would be carrying COVID. More than us the labourers would suffer.

But then we found a solution to this. Fruits, specially banana and apple, were available aplenty. So we thought these fruits are a good way to gain our energy and move on. In that same journey there were also people, like in Kasali before Badaun, there was a small tea stall run by one Nandalal. When he got to know that the labourers are walking, he would quickly made 30 to 40 samosas early in the morning. I was very surprised. When I asked him, ‘Can you open your shop?’ he said, ‘No, no we can’t’. Then I asked him, ‘Then why did you make so many samosas?’ He replied, ‘Sir, they all are on their way, what will they eat? At least these will suffice till lunch’.

When we reached Lucknow a man who runs a youth hostel got to know that these labourers are travelling and he opened up rooms at night. He said, ‘Sir, please ask them to come and stay the night in our hostel’. A lot of people reached out to help. But the first few days were very difficult. Authorities used to stop us as well as them, but because we are journalists and we had access to work during COVID we didn’t face any issues.

Did you ever feel that we could have handled this lockdown better as a country?

Vinod Kapri: I feel the circumstances that we were in at that time and the way the COVID cases were increasing, I feel at that time no matter who was the ruling party they wouldn’t have had any other option than the lockdown. Yes, the daily wage workers who worked in the morning to earn food for the night, who had to pay rent... those people whose houses will run only if they earn Rs 300 per day, I feel we should have thought about them. We thought about every part of the society, but this huge part was missed out.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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