'India in a Day': Film Review

Courtesy of TIFF
A colorful and inviting time capsule.

Executive producer Ridley Scott and director Richie Mehta ask people across India to show us a day in their lives.

Ordinary people across India invite us briefly into their lives for India in a Day, the result of a project initiated by director Richie Mehta, Google and executive producers Ridley Scott and Anurag Kashyap. Friendly and predictably overstuffed with all manner of diverse scenes, the documentary makes a natural kick-off film for the new India Kaleidoscope fest, a joint project of the Museum of the Moving Image and the NYC-based India Center.

We open with cellphone video shot in vertical portrait mode, but thankfully, this scene is an exception. Much of the film is surprisingly well photographed, and the vast majority aligns with the feature-friendly landscape aspect ratio. Hewing to its single-day format (footage was shot on Oct. 10, 2015, if you're wondering), we start in the black of night before waking up to a wide variety of morning bathing and eating routines.

Once the day kicks off, the film's disparate makers start to reveal themselves to us — some hamming for the camera and some earnestly introducing their towns, while others are clearly doing something they do all the time in the smartphone age, filming themselves. A high school girl, for instance, shoots her field trip to a science museum and tells classmates, "It's a video diary, dude — chill."

Some participants discuss social concerns, though references to poverty, the caste system and women's rights are usually glancing — and are always balanced with colorful episodes like a look at one enterprising driver's autorickshaw, whose lucky passengers can avail themselves of newspapers, chocolates, Wi-Fi and nationwide phone service. Serving both narrative purposes is a visit to what is said to be the only food stand run by transgender cooks, whose thriving business seems to serve as a kind of de facto community center.

No scene lasts very long, but any leisurely episode will likely be followed by a themed montage — scenes of produce-stuffed markets, of cars jostling through traffic, of birthday celebrations. (Just as in the West, cakes with candles are brought out to the familiar sounds of "Happy Birthday to You.")

Technology is, of course, a running theme. While some contributors highlight scarcity — noting how several households must share a single neighbor's Wi-Fi, or how those without cellphones rely on neighbors — the general thrust is on the speed of change. Both elders and young adults look around them and note how different the world is now from what it was in their youth. India in a Day hopes to bear witness to this quicksilver evolution.

Venue: India Kaleidoscope Film Festival
Production company: Scott Free Productions
Director: Richie Mehta
Producers: Jack Arbuthnott, Cassandra Sigsgaard
Executive producers: Carlo Dusi, Anurag Kashyap, Ridley Scott
Editor: Beverley Mills
Composer: Stephen Warbeck

In English and Hindi

85 minutes

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