Vinod Kapri’s documentary 1232 KMS, released on March 24, 2020, on Disney+Hoststar – exactly a year after PM Modi first announced lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19.
Exactly a year after thousands of daily wage earners were left with no source of income, no savings, and on the mercy of government handouts, that were at best mismanaged, at worst, simply non-existent.
Exactly a year after thousands of migrants took the long walk home, literally, as they ached for a home in their own home country.
In the last year, the rich and the privileged have survived on memes, Zoom calls, and social media challenges. But it’s the underprivileged section of our society that has faced the brunt of the pandemic.
And 1232 KMS brings alive their struggle in heartbreaking detail.
As the title suggests, the documentary follows the 1232 kms-long journey that a group of migrant labourers undertakes from Delhi (Ghaziabad) to Bihar (Saharsa), on bicycles, in order to reach their village.
What motivated them? The lack of facilities offered and the fear that either starvation or police brutality will kill them before they can see their loved ones, one last time.
As a migrant worker remarks, “we’ll either die on the road or reach our home. But at least we won’t die at the hands of the police.”
As Kapri and his team follow them, they bring alive the struggles of their perilous journey.
Like the exhaustion from long hours of riding with little sustenance, the unexpected technical troubles with their bicycles, or when Google Maps leads them on the wrong path and they lose precious hours.
Because in this long journey, each kilometer covered brings them one step closer to home.
But in the middle of this long and hard journey are also unexpected encounters of kindness.
A dhaba owner who offers them food and shelter, despite the risk of police attack, a security guard who find the tube to replace the cycle’s tire, or a truck owner who offers them a lift at great personal risk, thereby saving hours of travel time.
It’s this contrast that shapes the documentary. Kapri neither exaggerates a situation to “milk” the labourers’ misery, nor does he shy away from exposing the government’s mismanagement.
But at the same time, he allows you to witness the incidents that, as the overabused phrase goes, restore our faith in humanity.
Because India is a land of dichotomy. Here, on one hand, the government leaves the very migrants it’s been elected to protect, hungry for over 24 hours.
And at the other, a shop owner risks police persecution to open his shop just to cook fresh samosas for a group of hungry labourers he has no kinship with – except that of humanity.
1232 KMS is a well-made documentary but not an easy one to watch. It forces you to not just acknowledge your privilege, but to also not forget that India witnessed the largest exodus since partition last year.
Because, while the rich remain cushioned in comfort, the poor suffer from the repercussions of what is essentially a rich man’s disease. And despite it all, they continue to hustle and the government still has ‘no data’ to show for their struggles.
All images are screenshots from the documentary, currently streaming on Disney+Hotstar, unless specified otherwise.