Documentary ‘Katiyabaaz’ shines spotlight on India’s power shortage
A documentary about a power thief, the government official who tries to stop him, and the larger story about the lack of power and infrastructure in India’s small towns is making news at the Mumbai Film Festival.
“Katiyabaaz” (Powerless) chronicles the clash between Loha Singh, a Robin Hood-style power thief who claims to be the best in the business, and Ritu Maheshwari, a government official who is determined to stop power theft in the industrial town of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
The film will screen at the Mumbai Film Festival, which begins Friday.
Directed by documentary filmmakers Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar, the 84-minute movie screened at the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals before appearing in Mumbai.
“The film is as much about the energy crisis in India and globally as it is about the ingenuity and tenacity of the people in Kanpur. It is also a film about the challenges of governance, the numbers and scale that our policymakers must contend with,” Kakkar told Reuters in an email interview.
Mustafa, who is from Kanpur, and Kakkar spent more than two years following Loha Singh as he climbed electricity poles, strung together wires and brought power to several small workshops and businesses that need uninterrupted power to function.
The Indian government estimates that almost 20 percent of power generated in the country is stolen. The country has never overcome its chronic power crisis, and some analysts say it is a key reason why it might fall behind in its quest to compete with China and other developing nations. Peak demand shortage is pegged at 10 percent, according to government estimates.
In an industrial town like Kanpur, known for its leather and textile industries, lack of power can be crippling, and lives and livelihoods are at stake, Mustafa said.
“It is ostensibly a story about a lack of infrastructure, but I like to think that it also touches upon many other aspects of life in cities in India, the inequalities and struggles therein. For me, the city of Kanpur itself is a character to be reckoned with on film,” he said.
The protagonist of the film, he said was a “discovery’, and symbolic of the travails that his city had to face.
“We met a lot of electricity thieves in Kanpur (indeed, it seems half the city steals electricity), but no one like Loha, a person who owned himself, a legend in his neighborhood, foul-mouthed, fiercely independent, a true working class hero, and a product of the travails of the city,” said Mustafa.
In the trailer of the film, Singh is shown biting off wires, attaching them to electricity poles, and laughing off threats from Maheshwari’s people, who are determined to stop power theft. Often, he is supported by citizens, who blame the government for not providing them with uninterrupted power.
“The electricity people force even an honest man to become a thief,” an irate man tells the camera.
It is this inequality and dichotomy that both film-makers said stood out starkly during their film-making process.
“The scale of energy paucity in India is staggering. Of the 1.5 billion people worldwide who live without power, 400 million live in India. We want to put this crisis into perspective and bring it home to people,” Kakkar said.