Two Months With Children Living Behind Red Fort Gave Me A New Outlook On Freedom

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As the final project of a documentary course, I wanted to make a film on children living on the street. With my research, I somehow reached an NGO called Jamghat which works for the upliftment of underprivileged children. They have a day-care centre near Jama Masjid, where many children from nearby come and spend their day.

I remember how I amazed I was at the first glimpse of this day care centre. There were all these children over there, playing and making noise. I observed them for a while and then went to the window to see the view. I saw the huge walls of the Red Fort. I had known that it was nearby, but it was only then that I realised that it’s so near and is the only structure that can be seen from the window.

When I first visited Jamghat, I met Sakib and Alam, who play a major role in my film. The night shelter where Sakib, Alam and many other children of Jamghat stay in the night is also behind Jama Masjid. For them, it’s no less than home because they can all be together there. One day when I went inside the night shelter to meet Sakib, I saw him studying with two other friends. I did not want to disturb him so I just sat there and observed the place.

What I realised then became my film after about 2 months. I saw handmade national flags made by these children all over the walls. Then I saw Sakib and his friends studying with such sincerity and dedication. It was this moment that brought me closer to understanding what I wanted my film to be and how I wanted to make it. From that point, the Red Fort became an important and essential factor for this film.

During my initial research and ideation, Red Fort was something I was least concerned with. I did not know that it would become such an important part of the film. That realisation came slowly as I grew closer to the children and my experience and understanding of their life situations were enhanced. I simply could not ignore those huge red walls.

The narrative I crafted for the film, which was hugely aided by the sound and light show that takes place at Red Fort, follows a sort of pattern in which its history gets unfolded in a fascinating way. The film begins with the Red Fort being conquered by Nadir Shah when he brought in his army to loot and destroy the city. The defeat at the hands of Shah is followed by the taking over of the Fort by the Britishers from the Mughals. The ups and downs of this history make their way to a point in the film where we see Jawaharlal Nehru giving his freedom speech at the Fort celebrating Independence and Red Fort’s victory.

The way the film unfolds, apart from conveying and expressing an idea, also raises a question. Can this freedom really be called ‘freedom’? Has the Red Fort really won or has it been defeated again?

The realities of life of Alam, Sakib and all other children give an answer to these questions. The radioactive tower on the roof of the day-care centre gives an answer. Their waking up in the midnight to go to the Gurudwara to have good food gives an answer. And after all of this, their studying in that night shelter with those national flags all over them definitely gives an answer. This fort, which has always been defeated, makes me call it ‘The Fort Undefeated’.

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