“I have trouble sleeping at nights. I am terrified,” says Hamna Nazir, a resident doctor of Miraj hospital, Sangli as she leads her mobile camera through the hospital corridors in National Geographic’s latest documentary, Lockdown: India Fights Coronavirus.
Exhausted personnel, overwhelmed emergency rooms, and an unprecedented crisis at large galore. Billed as a virtually produced feature, Lockdown: India Fights Coronavirus brings forth a moving account of the COVID-19 frontline warriors, and presents them in a very raw state. While on one hand, the feature showcases them on field, doing their job relentlessly, on the other hand, the camera moves to their homes, displaying their inner struggles, with emotions at bay.
Hamna Abdul Nazir in a still from Lockdown: India Fights Coronavirus. National Geographic
The team at Nat Geo has stitched together self-shot sequences and archival footage from the protagonists to showcase an unseen narrative of their daily battles, their rigorous routine, dedicated service, and unbeatable spirit. The film is an attempt to acknowledge the heroic efforts of the coronavirus warriors across fields.
As the nation wades through lockdown phase 4.0, the documentary takes us back to the early days of shutdown. It opens with sweeping aerial shots of bustling metro cities such as Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bangalore among others, now in hiding. Attached to the Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s nationwide lockdown announcement, we find an infographic quickly sending crimson alerts, silently exposing the rise of coronavirus cases in the country.
Maharashtra has emerged as India’s epicenter in the COVID-19 pandemic, with Mumbai reporting the highest number of cases. The city is also home to Asia’s largest slum pocket, Dharavi, with population density of more than 2,00,000 per sq km. The possibility of coronavirus spreading to chawls and slums has been one of the biggest worries of health experts. The small living spaces in such areas, along with shared amenities like bathrooms and toilets, make social distancing — the most important preventive measure against the virus — near-impossible.
The documentary introduces Ramesh B Nangre, Senior Police Officer, Mumbai, who assures that slum dwellers remain well-informed about the crisis, buy groceries whilst following social distancing rules, and stay indoors. However, Nangre also confesses the police often falls short of covering and checking up on the entire slum. To make up for that, he has installed speakers in prominent corners, which play his recorded message, a wordplay on a popular Hindi song, “Pardesi, Pardesi, Ghar se bahar jaana nahi, jaana nahi.”
Ramesh B Nangre in a still from Lockdown: India Fights Coronavirus. National Geographic
The pandemic has also triggered a mass exodus of economic migrants residing in urban conglomerates, who are now desperate to go back to their homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are flocking at interstate borders, waiting to go home, often in dangerously squalid conditions.
“As a journalist, I was always taught to be an onlooker”, says Swetha Singh, Senior Executive Editor, Aaj Tak, who has been extensively covering the migrant crisis during the lockdown. During one of her reports, she visits a shelter home, and comes across a few women who are stranded, unable to reconnect to their families, and oblivious to the fact that all transport operations are ceased.
“How should I assure them that their stories are being heard? How will I ever know if she has safely reached her home because I barely know anything about her? These thoughts nag my conscience. I can’t help but they do. Hence, I can’t really be just an onlooker,” says Singh, as she heads to continue her reporting.
Migrant workers walk home during the lockdown in India. Associated Press
The trauma of families, the heroism of doctors, these stories are played out on news every night. What often goes unheard are the decisions faced by administrators, the often maligned officers who make sure there are enough beds, enough oxygen, and enough staff to handle the situation.
The documentary further probes health ministers, government officials on their strategies to contain the spread. It spotlights Kerala, which had started to “flatten the curve” in early April. It introduces us to a short-hand version of Rajasthan’s Bhilwara model to fight the coronavirus battle.
However, its main focus remains on the COVID-19 warriors, on their indomitable spirit, their battles physically and mentally, and their refusal to stop at any cost. The staff tries to remain positive but the strain cannot go invisible. Eventually, most of them break down only to get up the next day, and continue their jobs. Anxiety is often masked by humour and compassion for one another.
Towards the end, it introduces a new set of unsung heroes, who with their creativity, generosity, and innovation, are doing their bid to contain the spread of virus. Railway coaches are turned into isolation wards, students are picking robotics approach to minimise contact at hospitals, textile industry is manufacturing PPE kits and masks, and NGOs are feeding the hungry and needy. The virus is bringing everyone together, probably closer than ever before.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have, and that’s what I have learnt while working in this pandemic situation,” says Hamna, says as she faces the camera with a steady gaze, and gets ready to do her job again.