Sheffield ’16: Richie Mehta explores “India in a Day”

Toronto-based filmmaker Richie Mehta talks to realscreen about his Google-backed documentary, India in a Day, ahead of its Sheffield Doc/Fest premiere on Tuesday (June 14).
June 14, 2016

For Toronto-based filmmaker Richie Mehta (pictured, below), October of 2015 is a time he’ll remember as a 10-day whirlwind of hand shaking and press tours across India for the Google-backed India in a Day.

The film shares the story of a single day – October 10, 2015 – and captures a range of characters and personal reflections into what it means to live in the South Asian country today. The film is India’s largest crowd-sourced documentary to date, receiving more than 16,000 video submissions that amounted to 365-plus hours of footage over the one-day, nationwide shoot.

The press campaign, which began exactly one week following Mehta coming on board as director, saw the Amal filmmaker traveling country-wide to speak with various media outlets, schools, community centers and organizations between October 1 to October 10 in an attempt to raise the self-shot film’s profile.


India in a Day director Richie Mehta


“It was definitely manic, but it was also the kind of thing where you’re just go, go, go until the shoot date and do the best you can because there’s no limit to it, and you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Mehta told realscreen ahead of the film’s world premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest on June 14. “You just work until October 10, when there’s not much you can do but hope people are shooting.”

Executive produced by acclaimed directors and producers Ridley Scott and Anurag Kashyap, the film was born out of a partnership between Scott Free Productions and Google. It follows in the canon of the In a Day franchise that began with Kevin Macdonald’s acclaimed Life in a Day (2011), and extended to Britain in a Day (2012), Japan in a Day (2012) and Italy in a Day (2014).

Were there any particular themes in the film that filmmakers were asked to focus on? Was there something you were specifically looking for?

We prefaced the whole film by asking people to tell us about life and evolving India. You realize that India’s changed a lot in the last few years, so “evolving India” is one of the main themes of this film. [Participants] were also asked to talk about aspects of their lives, and people basically told us about themselves, showed us their lives or other people’s lives or they talked about the context of change which really has to do with humanity.

In 2011′s Life in a Day, filmmakers asked participants to answer a number of questions including “What’s in your pocket?” “What do you fear?” and “What do you love?” Did you provide the amateur filmmakers with similar questions?

It wasn’t as emphasized. I did ask on some of the co-op videos ‘What do you fear?’ ‘What do you hope for?’ and ‘What do you love?’ Some people did answer, but very few people said outright, ‘This is what it is.’ Most people just shot their life in a day, and then a handful of people talked about their life in context with everyone else, so very few people addressed a single question. But I asked those questions and also said ‘Just shoot anything’ because it’s about context – it might be mundane to them, but it’s special to us to see.

How did you choose which characters to come back to?

richie mehta's india in a day

Richie Mehta’s India in a Day

A lot of it had to do with the amount of footage [we received] but there were exceptions [because with] some footage, we got very little and we used all of it. The first thing was the amount we received, so if we received a lot and that tracked the morning, mid-day, afternoon, evening and night, then we could come back to them just from a temporal standpoint because the light and environment are different when we see them again. That’s the aesthetic way we started organizing things, but then we also looked at what the story is trying to say. If there’s something very special here and this character’s going to linger and stay with the viewer, then maybe we should come back to them.

What was the editing process like to put this film together?

It was very elaborate, very complicated and tough. The editor I worked with is Beverly Mills, who’s based in London. We were watching footage all the time and identifying interesting things we both agreed on very quickly. We would talk about bigger themes, what the relevance of it was and, most importantly, what I thought the footage was trying to say. Beverly would go and do rough cuts of those individual scenes, we’d display them on a timeline and we’d talk about the bigger picture montages that would connect certain themes and times of day, and she would go off for weeks and start putting this together based on our discussions. She would send me chunks, which were all amazing, and we’d go back and forth from there.

What surprised me was how technically sound the majority of footage used seemed to be – was that surprising to you?

Absolutely, that’s the thing that blew me away right away. On October 11, some footage was sent to me and I looked at it and said, ‘This looks like Terrence Malick shot it.’ If I had a crew sent out, we could never have done as well as this. We didn’t manipulate it; we didn’t touch the footage itself. The only thing we could affect was length, but we can’t change the speed of it or anything so it was really a privilege to have that footage to work with.

What were the production challenges you encountered when making this film?


India in a Day

Honestly, the biggest challenge was in the time allotted trying to make the best possible version of this film. That just became working on it day and night to make sure we get it right, because the production was one day – everybody shot their own stuff – but then to actually find something here that really spoke about humanity, and to make sure that came across not in a pedantic way, but in a compelling and emotional way, would be a real challenge.

Is there a distribution plan set in place for the film?

It’s not entirely completed yet – it’s being worked on – but it’s a Google project so it will eventually be available for everybody on YouTube at no charge. Before that, we do have some festivals and we’ll see how it unfolds, but right now Sheffield is the only concrete thing.

  • This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
  • India in a Day premieres at Sheffield Doc/Fest tonight (June 14) at 8:30 p.m. GMT, followed by a Q&A with the film’s director.
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