Drone’s Eye: The Sleeping City of Dreams — Mumbai Under Lockdown

The age of isolation is upon us. All over the world, countries have sealed their doors to the outside world, and have restricted the movement of their own citizens in keeping with the rules of social distancing. Amid the silence that seems to have gripped the world we live in, whispers of human perseverance carry on the wind, emanating from the hearts of our nation’s creatives.
One such collective of creatives, MumbaiLive, have used their art to serve as a window into the outside world for all of us who are stuck at home, and what they have captured is sure to take your breath away.

“It felt like a beautiful yet somewhat unsettling dream to film the city like this.” Explains co-director Omkar Phatak, “I think it was an amalgamation of beauty and horror that we felt,”

The video-project, entitled ‘Scenic Drone Shoot of Mumbai Lockdown’, has been making the rounds of social media and WhatsApp groups, and is quickly becoming the most popular representation of the outside world us Mumbaikars currently have access to. The brainchild of Creative Director Kushang Dholakia of Mumbai Live, we got talking with the filmmaker himself, as well as co-director and non-fiction cinematographer and TheVibe tribemember, Omkar Phatak, as they told of their incredible film, and the current state of affairs in our city.

°An Idea is Born

On the 19th of March, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the citizens of the nation to declare a day of voluntary curfew to be observed on the 22nd of March, to curb the spread of the deadly Covid-19. A precursor to the nation-wide lockdown announcement that followed shortly thereafter, the country as a whole was afforded a taste of what was to come, including director of the Scenic Drone Shoot, Kushang Dholakia of MumbaiLive.

Kushang explains that the germ of the idea was born on the day of the Janta Curfew, when he was confronted by images of empty streets, where once there existed the usual chaotic buzzing of city-life, and was immediately struck by how eerie and beautiful they were. It was so that he, along with his colleagues at MumbaiLive, began discussing the possibility of making a drone’s eye perspective film of the city under lockdown. With some difficulty, permissions were arranged, but not without effort and compromise.

“At first, we’d requested for the entire city, but we got permission to select any four areas only.” Kushang explains, “So we chose the four you see in the film – CST, Dadar, Marine Lines and Bandra.”

Omkar, who has been a long-time friend and tribemember to TheVibe, and is the genius pilot behind TheVibe’s Moving Images Burma, was only too happy to oblige Kushang’s creative aspirations.

“I was quite surprised & excited at the same time when Kushang told me about the project” Omkar tells, “I had already been dreaming of shooting the empty city under this lockdown & I was super stoked to know that there was a chance to do this.”

Watch Omkar’s stunning footage of Burma from TheVibe archives here!

With Omkar and the rest of the team onboard, Kushang set out on his quest to document the city that never sleeps, as it rested its weary head.

°Into the Unknown

As the team prepared to set out into the open, they soon realised that some precautions took longer to set in than others.

“Before hand-sanitizers and masks, it took quite a bit of ‘calming down’ of our nerves and mothers at home” Omkar explains. Having not stepped out into their own localities since the start of the lockdown, there was no lack of anxiety for the team themselves. However, these worries were short-lived. “I can definitely say that all of that anxiety just disappeared when the drone went up for the first shot of the CST building, which also turned out to be the opening shot of our film.” Omkar explains.

Following with the rules of social distancing, the 4-person team avoided physical contact with each other and used a car as their method of transport to get around the city. “All four of us wore masks and gloves throughout the day. We’d carried hand sanitizers as well. Every-time we switched a location we’d use the sanitizer for safety.” Kushang explains, “After returning home, without touching anyone or anything, I straight up took a bath and dipped the clothes myself.”

The whole excursion was a day spend clad in masks and maintaining distance between each other. After losing one bottle of sanitiser and emptying two others, the team was left with a film they could all be proud of. “Also, I have to highlight that we reached Dadar from CST in just 10 minutes.” Omkar says.

°The Sleeping City of Dreams

Setting out on the 30th of March, 6 days into the nationwide lockdown, the crew were met with abandoned streets and deserted landmarks. Essential service vehicles and officials dotted the streets here and there, but few of the general populous were to be seen.

When asked, Kushang reveals that having traveled regularly in the city over the last 10 years, seeing it in its current state was something of a polarizing experience. “On one hand, I was in awe of its beauty as a filmmaker and on another side, it felt truly sad to see it lifeless, without its people.”

Mumbai-native Omkar expressed a sense of overwhelming disbelief at being confronted by a vision of Mumbai without Mumbaikars. “I remember telling Kushang that I almost felt a void inside when I couldn’t hear or see the chaos of our city,” He reminisces, “To me, it is the chaos that defines Mumbai.”

However, for the two filmmakers, this surreal vision of an abandoned Mumbai was an honor and an opportunity that they will treasure for a long time to come. “For me, filming at some places added a wealth of knowledge about the city.” Kushang explains, “Plus, just the joy and memory of filming iconic landmarks like the Sea Link is something I’m gonna carry for the rest of my life. Everything about that shoot day and the aftermath of it is something I’ll never forget.”

Watch the film here!

°The Preservation of a Nation

As Omkar and Kushang speak of their film, we get talking about the nation’s reaction to the pandemic as a whole.

“Judging by the way western countries have dealt with it, I would say we’ve done an excellent job by announcing the lock-down at an early stage. But that’s where the compliments end.” Kushang explains. While expressing a sense of pride in the community for donating funds to show support to those who need it, Kushang elaborates on his hopes for both the government, and the citizens of the nation. “I hope our government is working hard to take care of the health officials, providing them with PPE’s and chalking out a plan for mass testing with faster results. We can only pray that community transmissions are brought under control and citizens follow the rules by staying indoors.”

When prodded on his views, Omkar reveals a duality of gladness, as well as disappointment. “I am glad that we actually turned out to be a country that has come together to fight this virus by staying at home. Glad that we are trying our own little variations of social distancing and social connecting one way or the other. Glad that we have our central and state governments taking preventive measures to minimize the damage, calming down & cheering up the citizens and trying to put our country back in the driving seat through this.” He explains. However, one issue weighs heavily on his mind. “I am upset that the lower class of society will take the hardest hit coming from this virus, and there’s very little that I can do to help.”

When asked what message he would like to portray to audiences of the film, director Kushang Dholakia explains that his sentiments can be summarized into one single word: Preservation.

“A sustainable development model is the need of the hour if we want to provide Mumbaikars with clean water and healthy air to breathe in.” Kushang explains. If one were to pay careful attention, Kushang explains, one would notice that most of the shots have a visibility of 2-3kms. “That’s because within a week our air quality had improved drastically, resulting in no smog.” He says, “Trust me, it felt truly pleasant to breathe fresh air at Marine Lines. Every place we went, the trees looked greener than ever before. If only we can maintain this coexistence with nature, then Mumbai will always look and feel as beautiful as it does in our film.”

As we bring our conversation to its close, Omkar explains that while he is grateful for the opportunity to shoot a film of this nature, he hopes things come to a resolution soon.

“I hope this is the first and also the last time we get to see or film the city like this.” He says, “Hoping we come back to chaos, soon.”

Drone’s Eye is TheVibe’s original format under its Visuals programming, which presents some of the world’s best-known events and locations as captured with aerial photography. TheVibe launched this format 5-years ago to celebrate visual narratives born out of drone photography and filmmaking. If you’d like to contribute with your own drone films for curation under this segment, then reach out to us on [email protected]

All images used in this article are courtesy of Kushang, Omkar and MumbaiLive

©️ 2020. Gut and Flow Media Pvt. Ltd.

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