The story of children frequently escaping from what is called as Juvenile Homes or Government Observation Homes had captured my imagination for a while. “There must be a great story, parallel to Louis Sachar’s ‘The Holes’,” I thought. A good story to me is like fermenting vinegar to a housefly. Just irresistible.
So, I had to see what was going on in these Juvenile Homes that led to children running away all the time and press going to the extreme of calling them “Hell Holes”.
This took me to Ms. Narmada Anand, the program manager at the Department of Women and Child Development. While conversing with this wonderfully enterprising lady, she casually mentioned about an organization that worked with runaway children and spelled S-A-T-H-I.
My first thought: “What kind of an organization names itself after the barbaric medieval ritual of widow burning!” And when I hesitantly made my first call to Basavaraj of SATHI, I referred to it as sathi.
When Basavaraj explained to me what amazing work they did, I had to test the water and throw my hook. By the way, when he explained to me that their organization is pronounced as “saathi”, I was embarrassed that I didn’t see it to begin with.
And when I went to their office in Yeshwantpura, Bangalore, I had no expectation. The soft-spoken Basavaraj took me to their shelter near the railway station. There, I saw the faces of Railway Children for the first time. Of course, these were the faces I must have seen many times during my many train travels. The face of our collective failure as a country.
But, I’m a film-maker and I fish for stories and not causes. And to me, there was potential, but not really a story. And then, a social-worker at SATHI told me about Shiva Kumar, one of their many Railway Children. And that was what I was looking for.
It was a truly original, amazing story that had to reach a wide audience across the globe. And reality, in case of Shiva Kumar, was stranger than any fiction. Apart from all the abrasions of platform survival, there was a remarkable tendency of confused gender identity. Such a story hadn’t been told in the history of World cinema!!
(More will not be revealed about Shiva Kumar, as the story has a twist could bring Hitchcock back from his grave.) And Lalitha Iyer’s non-fiction accounting of “Rescuing Railway Children” became the shovel to dig deeper into this world. And in this world was struggle, dream, drug abuse, sexual abuse, deviant sexual behavior, hope, crime, helping hands and evil bosses.
This rainbow of Railway Children had to be tapped into a motion picture. The RAWness of the story had to reach wider audience. And that’s how Shiva kumar became Raju in my sacreenplay.