Invisible Demons (2021)

A documentary about the pollution in Delhi NCR, capital of India

9/2/20233 min read

Ladies performing rituals in polluted Yamuna river in Delhi
Ladies performing rituals in polluted Yamuna river in Delhi

English, Hindi, 70 mins, 2021

Director: Rahul Jain

Awards: Nominee ‘Golden Eye’, Cannes Film Festival, 2021; Nominee (Golden Eye) Best International Documentary Film, Zurich Film Festival, 2021; Winner Best Documentary Film and Nominee for Best Sound Design, Jussi Awards (Finlands Film Awards), 2022

This documentary concentrates on the issue of pollution in Delhi, National Capital Region or Delhi NCR as it is known. It takes us to polluted Yamuna river which is a sacred river for Indians but now is polluted to the extent that, the narrator says, “I have never seen river clear…only black or white”, and shows us the froth generated due to chemicals in the river changing its nature from sacred river to abhorred drainage. No life form is found in the river today.

It then takes us to suburbs where there is scarcity of water and people get water from water tankers only showing how the people in slums and ‘bastis’ (group of hutments) struggle to get fresh and clean water. The filmmaker then contrasts it with rain drenched and flooded city parts where excess of rains have flooded homes, shops, streets and lives of the people.

In the same way we are shown air pollution due to vehicles, traffic jams, bursting of crackers, construction activity and farmers burning stubble after the harvest and how these elements keep the city polluted and wreaks havoc with the lungs of people. Students, workers, housewives, senior citizens all with some breathing issue are getting checked up at hospitals and clinics. It takes us to one of the four garbage landfills and to Yamuna river again for ‘Durga Visarjan’, ending of nine day festival of Goddess Durga showing how ladies are still performing religious rituals in polluted river.

The documentary is shot and edited very well keeping the pace slow to get the message across and understand the sordid reality of current state of pollution in the capital city of India. But it doesn’t go beyond. The issue is laid out well with stark visuals and genuine interviews or bytes from people but no reference to pollution authorities or planning of city authorities or how it came to such an impasse or who is responsible now or…how someone, if there is someone…going to solve the issue? There is one interview, makers hitch-hiked with NDTV correspondent who went to interview Meteorological head! Meteorology? There is a body called CPCB-Central Pollution Control Board in Delhi. There is another body called Delhi Pollution Control Committee (which would not have denied interview if asked) and then there are umpteen NGOs in city who focus only on pollution and daily AQIs.

Not a single interview with any credible standing- I mean starting with lower rung say interview from a city hospital (or private diagnostic centre) doctor who talks about how many people come here to get lung test done daily and what percentage is diagnosed in critical category? Right? Next, a historian or academician or some reputed senior citizen of Delhi talking about how 40- 45 years back Delhi was not a polluted city. Then, an interview with some NGO person talking about how Delhi has travelled from almost ‘no pollution’ to ‘highly polluted cities of the world’ status. Then, taking it forward to interview government officials in pollution control boards and committees and then finally Delhi’s Minister-in-charge of pollution. Shouldn’t these be there? If anyone would have declined for an interview, the narrator could still say that ‘our request for interview was declined by so and so person’. I mean, why does one make documentary? And, what is a good and complete documentary?

So this documentary does not navigate towards a destination but just revolves around the same spot showing almost same or similar visuals talking about same thing for 70 minutes. Missed opportunity, I would say. Genuine issue, genuine concern but alas, not much effort was taken to address it.

About the director, Rahul Jain

Rahul grew up in Delhi and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Video from California institute of the Arts and currently pursuing MA in Aesthetics and Politics. His debut documentary ‘Machines’, made on textile factory laborers, was feted at lot of film festivals. It won Best Cinematography Award (Documentary) and nominated for Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival, 2017. It won ‘Golden Eye’ at Zurich Film Festival, 2017 and Silver Gateway Award at Mumbai Film Festival in 2017.

His present documentary film was features in Cannes section dedicated to environmental films and was nominated for ‘Golden Eye’, Cannes Film Festival, 2021 and couple of Jussi Awards as written above.