A few minutes. The distance from critical to brain-dead is too short when it comes to accidents. And it all depends on a compact white vehicle treading through pockmarked roads and potholes, its red, blinking siren on an overdrive.
Focusing on the one sitting behind the wheel, perhaps the real saviour, is Unsung Heroes, a 36-minute documentary by Baburaj Asariya. “It’s a very realistic take on the life of ambulance drivers, their occupational hazards and challenges,” says the director.
Roaring through the highways in breakneck speed, the job comes with its inherent risks. “Though they do one of the most dangerous jobs, prone to injury and even death, they don’t have any proper safety measures. Apart from a few government drivers they don’t get any benefits as well,” he adds.
The documentary opens with an accident and moves forward through the perspective of onlookers. “There is no narration, just visuals and bites from the drivers. It’s basically a scenario-based film,” he says. Since it’s an emergency service, ambulance drivers are on duty 24x7. “But they don’t have any basic facilities. They use pay-and-use comfort stations and sleep and eat inside the ambulance,” he says.
Apart from the miniscule commission, it’s an occasional a pat on the back or a hurried gratitude that they usually receive. “Moreover, not all the motorists you see on our roads are civil to them.
Even if majority of vehicles help making way for the ambulance, a single insensitive driver can make it a hard task. There are people who don’t care despite knowing that someone’s life is in danger.”
Baburaj says he has been researching the subject for over an year spending huge chunks of time with the drivers. “I interviewed around 70 drivers for this and some of them are part of the film. Through them, I have tried to present the problems of this mostly unorganised workforce,” he says.
Apart from transporting accident victims and seriously-ill patients, they also go on long trips with dead bodies. “From the nearby Tamil Nadu to UP and Bengal, they head for distant states and far-flung villages,” he says.
Among the drivers, the majority are service-minded, people willing to help irrespective of the money part. “It takes a lot of courage and dedication to do what they do. We worship people who save lives in fiction and films, but these drivers are the true heroes, they save lives everyday,” he adds.
Unsung Heroes has Krishna G cranking the camera and Sreenath S Vijay scoring the music. The documentary will be screened at Nila theatre on May 1.