Friday, March 19, 2010

A savvy, must-watch documentary on the peerless P. Sainath

For three decades, he has written about the impact of "development" on the rural poor. In 2007, he won the Magsaysay Award. And he is currently the Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu.

Now he is also the subject of a new documentary Nero's Guests produced by his former student, who has been filming him since 2004.

Here's an excerpt from an interview in Time Out Bengaluru with the documentary maker, Deepa Bhatia:
P. Sainath is notoriously averse to being filmed. How did you manage to make a documentary about him?
Finnish documentary commissioning editor Iikka Vehkalahti has known Sainath for a very long time and he has been trying to get Sainath to be a part of a film for years, but Sainath consistently refused. I met Iikka and I told him, let’s start filming Sainath and see where it goes. Sainath was reporting very aggressively at that time on the agrarian crisis. He would go to the countryside and I would shoot him or get him filmed. I shot sporadically, without any intent of making a film or knowing what it would be about.
  • Find out more about Nero's Guests here.
  • Mint's Lounge supplement has also published a brief article on the documentary.
  • I have bought a copy of the DVD for the college among the many important reasons for our AVC students to watch it: learn how to make a documentary on a public figure tacking a public crisis.
  • Photo courtesy: Time Out Bengaluru
Shivram Sujir (Class of 2011) watched the documentary a few days ago. Here's his take on Nero's Guests:
This is one of those documentaries that every so-called 'educated' citizen in India should watch. The one who thinks India is all about information technology. The one who takes pride in the fact that our GDP growth is the highest. The one who feels great that we are one of the fastest growing economies of the world and is enthralled by the idea of globalisation.

Magsaysay award winner P. Sainath, whose work is the subject of this documentary, may come across as a grumpy, angry, and frustrated man but what else can you expect of a warrior who has been fighting a lone battle for three decades watching his countrymen fall one by one to the arrows of corporatisation and industrialisation? His account of how our definition of development has caused complete devastation in the lives of farmers and led to the agrarian crisis is like a tête-à-tête with the real India and the slow death she is dying at the hands of Nero's guests.

Wonder who Nero's guests are? Watch the documentary. You'll be surprised.
  • Nero's Guests is now available on YouTube; watch it here.


  1. Namrata ChinmulgundAugust 15, 2010 at 2:59 AM

    When I got a copy of this documentary I thought that it is going to be very boring.But! believe you me, I din't even get up for a coffee break, once I began to watch it.I loved this documentary. It is so well made and I am happy that I aware of the issue of farmer's suicide in India. I am also surprised how the Indian government fails to do anything for our farmers.

  2. I agree with Shivram. This documentary is a must watch for every Indian who lives in a cocoon, oblivious of all the burning issues that plague the country. We all know that India is an agrarian economy and that Indian farmers constitute most of our work-force. But how many of us know that every day one farmer or more kill themselves because they have no other alternative? It is appalling to know that the very people who are the source of our daily sustenance are the ones who are deprived of food and other basic necessities of life. Where on one hand the Indian government exports millions of kilograms of food grains to Europe, our farmers are forced to let their children go to bed at night empty stomach. P.Sainath's dedication and persistence is commendable, and I hope that his efforts bear fruit someday. It is important for us to realise our responsibilities as citizens of the country and not add to the agony of the farmers by becoming 'Nero's Guests'.

  3. This is a movie that should be seen by every Indian. More people as passionate as P.Sainath are required to make a change. One man against a billion, still not giving up, is truly someone I want to idolise.

  4. Nearly 2,00,000 farmers have committed suicide in India over the last 10 years. But the mainstream media hardly reflects this. Nero's Guests is a documentary that every Indian must watch. The film doesn't need us, we need the film. We need to wake up and take note of the bitter reality of a farmer's life. P.Sainath's consistent efforts makes us confront the India that we don't want to see and provokes us to think about who 'Nero's Guests' are in today's world. 'People like us' should bring about a positive change in the lives of 'People like them'.

  5. We all come to study journalism with passion but somewhere the real motive, cause of us wanting to become a journalist gets lost. We get lost in the crowd and become one of them. We are privileged to be educated. One small effort or stand made by us can make a huge difference in society. Lets not close our eyes and think how does it bother? It does matter cause we all belong to one nation without social strata and cultural differences. Sudipta paul

  6. I don't think the media is entirely to blame. But I agree that a lot of the 'news' reported by the media can be accurately labeled rubbish.

    There has to be a real change in the way people perceive the situation. A lot of the initiatives taken by the govt. don't reach the ones who need it most because the information given to the farmers is inadequate. Also, teaching farmers to use modern solutions to their problems is something the govt. has failed to do so far.

  7. Thank god! there are documentary filmmakers who are committed enough to go where no new reporter or filmmaker will care or dare to go. Deepa Bhatia’s film Nero’s Guests, that follows journalist P.Sainath through areas of devastation, and also comes up with startling facts, leaves a lasting impression on the viewer’s mind.
    A fashion week gets over 1000 reporters covering it, but hardly any publication has a full-fledged rural reporting department.. Sainath’s campaign for creating awareness about rural poverty and farmer suicides has won him a great admiration among the viewers. He is a forceful and fearless speaker, sarcastic and truthfull.

    I am greatly moved and I got inspired by Deepa Bhatia.


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