In March 2020 when a nationwide lockdown was declared thousands of migrant labourers were stranded in the major cities without livelihood, food or hope. This is the story of seven such Bihari migrants who decided to cycle their way home to the Saharsa district in Bihar more than a thousand miles away.
How did they do it? Where did they find the physical and emotional strength with not a penny in their pocket, relying solely on their survival instincts and the kindness of strangers, like that truck driver with a smiling face who loads all the migrants and cycles on his truck and takes them some miles, giving their feet a brief respite. And never mind if the cops may accost him.Kindness knows no bounds.
And what about that beaming cop(I will never forget his face) who gets a tyre tube for one of the cyclists from a town nearby and tells us it is important for all of us to do what can do to help.“Anyone who helps us is Bhagwan,” says one of the migrants, as Vinod Kapri follows them all the way to their homes.
I have to admit that the thought of Kapri trailing these monstrously desperate penniless wretchedly anxious human beings in his car made me uncomfortable. But as the journey progressed, and hope often dimmed , I saw the wisdom of Kapri’s task .
This is a story that needed to be brought into our lives. So far we have just heard about the struggle of thousands of migrants, how they cycled, walked, begged for rides to get home on empty stomachs. Here in front of our eyes is the most devastating and damning documentation of human callousness. As we see these brave men peddling to their homes, each one of us out here has reason to feel terribly guilty.
When and how did this great nation of ours come to this? How did we become so impervious and indifferent to the plight of the poorest of the poor? This underlining question haunts this historic 90-plus minute film as we undertake a journey from Delhi to Saharsa with men(a few of them look like boys) who have nothing to lose .
“Ghar jayenge ya raste mein marr jayenge,” they say more than once. Their bodies fatigued beyond belief by the incessant peddling sometimes give up on them. But their determination is immovable.I have never seen braver heroes in my life than these people whose lives Kapri has chosen to film as a reminder of the cruelty that we as a collective society inflict on the underprivileged.
“There is no place in this country for the poor,” says a young man peddling violently to his intended freedom. He is not angry, just resigned to his fate.Yes, they do feel angry towards the Gods for doing this to them. There are heartbreaking breaks for video calls home to the grieving mom or wife who has decided not to eat a morsel until the man of the house returns.
This brings me to a major blemish in this exceptional unexampled survival story. Why the background music and poignant songs in the background about the wife waiting for her ‘Bidesia’ to come home or asking her beloved to remove her ghunghat as her hands her plunged in flour dough?…1232 KMS needed no cinematic embellishment and props to amplify the drama.
The inherent emotional content is so high, the wounds so raw and painful that any adornment seems like a silly compromise. This is a story that needs to be heard. Full marks to Vinod Kapri for telling it. He has great support from his editor Hemanti Sarkar who has pieced together the fragments and shards of a socio-economic tragedy from which we shall never emerge .Not really.
Image source: IMDb
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