Exactly one year ago today, the central government announced that India was going into a full lockdown. Two days before that the Maharashtra government had announced that the state was going into lockdown. By some stroke of luck, I had managed to make my way to my hometown. But millions and millions of people, largely migrant workers, couldn’t. They were given little-to-no provisions. Their plight was hardly addressed by the mainstream media. And they had to walk all the way to their home and back again leading to the largest human exodus the world had ever seen, thereby highlighting the governments’ incompetency and our lack of a moral compass. And just when it seemed that it’s going to get ignored like everything else in India, Vinod Kapri has come up with a documentary on it called 1232 KMS.
Vishal Bhardwaj, who has composed the music of 1232 KMS, was kind enough to sit down for a virtual chat with me and talk about his contribution to this project. Check it out.
While composing the music of 1232 KMS, how did you maintain the balance between showcasing your work and ensuring that the plight of the migrant workers always remained in the limelight?
“The process actually was the other way around. Because when I saw the documentary, I realised that it needs some poetic expression to this. I wanted to add some poetic expression to that. And Gulzar saab ke jo nazmein the woh sab chhap toh nahi rahi thi. But I used to listen to them. He would narrate them to me. And we were going through that pain and a creative person can only express through their creativity. Gulzar saab toh phir bhi likhke kar rahe the. And I wasn’t being able to do the same musically. So, when the documentary came around, jitne bhi nazme jo thi, they gelled very well with it. Usually, there aren’t songs in a documentary. But I said why not? Because poetry and songs are one of the best ways to express oneself. When I met the director, Vinod Kapri, I told him about Gulzar saab’s poetry. In the beginning, there was a little bit of apprehension about how the songs are going to seem. Even the editor Hemanti [Sarkar] was a little apprehensive. But I said that there are these two songs and I am going to record them and send them to you. After that, you see whether or not it enhances your film and doesn’t harm your film in any way, then I will work on it. It was like a rough sketch. And the way it was used by Vinod and Hemanti was great. Then it started inspiring. When they sent it back to me, I worked on it some more, sent them back my music, and so on and so forth.”
The government-mandated narrative is that the pandemic has been handled well. But 1232 KMS is going to remain as proof forever that that wasn’t the case. So, were there any apprehensions in terms of contradicting the said narrative?
“No, I didn’t. Because it’s a fact. If somebody says that it hasn’t happened, then theek hai. Waise toh phir bohot saare aise cheezein hai jo nahi hui hai. There are a lot of things that ‘haven’t happened’ but everybody knows about it. If somebody doesn’t believe that this happened… We aren’t doing anything to convince anybody. I have associated myself with this project because it’s a human tragedy. Like, the 1947 partition exodus. We weren’t there during that time. But we hear stories about it. We hear about the violence that happened after the partition. Between both communities. After that, there’s Kashmir Pandits’ exodus. I have heard stories about that. Woh bhi dil dehla dene wala hai. So, this [The migrants’ exodus] is similar to that. Ye toh sabse zyada bhayanak hua hai. Such an exodus has never happened. Hamara politics se koi lena dena nahi hai. Na tha, na hai, aur na kabhi hoga. We express what we see in our society and what the human heart feels. Koi political agenda na hai aur na kabhi hoga. The truth is that this happened. And there’s no political path in the documentary. It’s just the fact that these seven people traveled for over 1000 kms and the pain that they endured and are still enduring, this documentary is about that.”
You have represented India in various ways on film. Now through 1232 KMS you have seen another aspect of India. How has that changed your vision of the country?
“The vision of India has always been about having a fluctuating feeling of confidence in your country and the people of this country. And at the end of the day, we are all the same. On a deeper level, we are connected in some way. So, if you feel any form of discomfort, I am going to feel it too. No matter how much time it takes. No matter how many souls and bodies it passes through, it will eventually reach me. It is up to my sensitivity that when will I feel it. If you are too sensitive, you will feel it soon. If you are insensitive, you are never going to feel it.”
If I can be honest here, I wish that there wasn’t a need to make this documentary, 1232 KMS. What I mean to say by that is that I wish that this exodus never happened. I wish that we as a country were equipped enough to ensure that every strata of the working class wasn’t being thrown into the deep end during such a global pandemic. I wish that we as a country were sensible enough to elect people who put the interest of the people before anything else instead of committing massive blunders first and doing image cleanups later. But it doesn’t matter what I wish. The exodus happened. People died. And in a bittersweet way (More bitter, less sweet), I am glad that 1232 KMS exists as a reminder that what we are as a nation and the direction in which we should be going so that nothing like this happens ever again.
1232 KMS will stream on Disney+ Hotstar VIP from March 24.
Cover artwork by Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India