Opening with the difference in the virtues of two of India’s famous Narendras i.e. Swami Vivekananda (Narendra Dutt) and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the subject of migrants, the film sets it’s tone and agenda right from the first scene.
When Narendra Modi, the then PM candidate for Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), is speaking on segregating migrants into ghuspethiyas (intruders) and good beings and sending the ghuspethiyas back to where they have come from, a black screen inscribed with the saying, “I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth,” by Vivekananda is flashed to the full view of the audience and thus the basis of the film, the difference created by the political class between two sets of migrants in India, is set.
Footloose: A story of Belonging is an attempt at documenting the lives of India’s two highly debatable and discussed migrant groups- the Rohingyas, who have come to India from Myanmar, and the Pakistani Hindus. Both these communities have been persecuted in their homeland; the Rohingyas have even been termed by the United Nations as ‘the most persecuted community in the world.’ A directorial debut of Gulshan Singh, the entire film is set in Delhi and concentrates mostly on the refugee camps set up in some far off places like Majnu ka Tila, Bijwasan, Rohini etc.
Images of migrant ships filled with people from countries like Syria, Libya and Iraq sinking while trying to cross the Mediterranean, children dying on the shores, disturbs our soul, this one is of the migrants living in our country.
Shot for over two years from November 2017 till April 2020, the film entails the stories of the migrants from Myanmar and co-relates it to those of Pakistani Hindus. If not for the identities and the language spoken, one could never differentiate between the two sets of people because their sorrows are eerily similar in all aspects.
From being persecuted in the name of religion to being killed raped and murdered, the stories of the individuals from both the sides, and their expression while they tell it, sends chills down the spine of the viewer.
While one side has General Zia-Ul-Haq and his religiously barbaric methods to blame for Hindu persecution, the other side considers Buddhists supremacists especially, “The Buddhist Face of Terror” Ashin Wirathu as the reason for all their sorrows.
While showcasing the grievances and grief of both sides of citizens from Kishan Lal to Abdulla and from Salim to Sona Das, Researcher Rohit Upadhyay provides a detailed history of the problems of migrants and it works as a compliment. Instead of getting distracted from the movie, the viewer is rather delighted for being informed about the background so smoothly and without disturbing their flow.
Sometimes narration can act as a distracter, but the firm, soothing yet vividly striking voice of the commentator again compliments the storytelling and indulges the viewer much more than he would have been otherwise.
Music, although used in very less amount of what it should have been, is brilliantly composed and utilized in the background score and Tajdar Junaid deserves all the credit that he is getting for it. Cinematography, especially while capturing the expressions of the people, is brilliant. The use of the innocent faces of kids will make an impression in the minds of the viewer. For example, one could not forget the child beating on his burnt cupboard amidst the ruins of his camp field.
Although editing could have been crisper, one must admit that at places, it is brilliant. In the entire movie, be it the use of dhol (drum) sound just at the right moment or metaphorical use of a cock’s ‘baang’ to suggest the beginning of a new dawn in the lives of the Pakistani Hindus is just brilliant.
During the first 50 minutes of the one hour 33-minute long film, the pain, grief and description of the situation at their native places occupy the screen space as the director sets the narrative like a silence before the storm. The storm is obviously the introduction of the Citizen Amendment Bill, its subsequent passage in both houses of the Parliament and the beginning of the protests in the country. These events prove to be the turning point in the documentary and also showcase the change in the behaviour, demeanour and aspirations of the two sets of migrants.
The length of the movie could have been shorter and for that, the editor would have to take the blame. The background score could have been utilized more extensively. And although a lot of research has been done on the whereabouts of the migrants, the angle of how they are actually adding to our economy was missed.
Given the times that our country is going through, with all the CAA-NRC protests, and those people associated with the protests being picked up under the draconian UAPA law, this film acts as your guide to understanding the situation. It has in it the plight of the Rohingya, the happiness of the Pakistani Hindus and also the drooping political levels as leaders like Anurag Thakur and Kapil Mishra are seen instigating riots.
The commentary and research are fresh and hit you to wake you from the slumber. It makes the film seamless and doesn’t bore you down, as might be the case with many viewers while watching documentaries.
It has documented all the things that have happened right in front of our eyes and has connected them with history. The background score and cinematography would attract you as a student of cinema or just even as a viewer.
The main idea of the film of not being political in commentary or treatment and yet telling the people as to how the migrants are being utilized or misused by political groups for their own benefit is the icing on the cake.
Watch the official trailer of the film here.