The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic evoked a collective sense of pain and grief. In a pursuit to document the chaotic state-of-affairs, Mehr Singh, an independent filmmaker from Delhi, began recording real-life stories of loss and distress.
Assembling these clips together, she created Toofan, a 21-minute long documentary film that is currently streaming on Mubi India. It features a string of telephonic interviews that Singh conducted in April 2020 - the peak of the second wave - with individuals who either lost someone close to them or had worked on the frontline.
Exploring deep-rooted emotions of trauma and pain, Toofan is a haunting yet honest account of the catastrophe the country witnessed. We speak to the filmmaker about the documentary and her takeaway from filming the struggles of people amid a pandemic.
Tell us about the process of working on Toofan.
I was a part of an online help group. I was speaking to and helping a lot of people look for beds in Delhi. I did not want to seem like a vulture. It [the process of interviewing people] was very delicate but what ended up happening was a lot of people wanted to speak about it.
They either found it cathartic or I reached out to people who were openly speaking about it on social media, so they indicated that they wanted to share their stories. It came upon me that I am living in the middle of a moment that I hope we never see again. So, I thought if I don’t document it, even if nothing comes of it, it would be a waste. I told myself 'just do it'.
I had about 30 hours of phone calls. The number of voices you hear [in the film] is no way near the number of people I spoke to. I had to make a lot of decisions to cut out the [excessively] tragic stories since I was very conscious not to make this tragedy porn or over-sensationalise it.
In my experience, people were in grief and they still wanted to share and vent. They were angry.
What was your approach towards devising the visual narrative of the film?
What I would like my style of filmmaking to be is 'show, don't tell'. I did not want to make the film about myself or fictionalise everything. I realised that what I was seeing was a resilient population. A lot of people interpret the visual narrative [of the film] as people forgetting; it is people forgetting, but we forget that a lot of people had no choice but to forget.
I chose this visual narrative because for me, it was very much the idea of survival on two levels. What we are hearing about is survival in a very extreme scenario, but this [the visuals] is the daily scenario, how vulnerable our population is, and how they are trying to survive on a daily basis.