In India, approximately 1.25 lakh children run away from home every year. Many end up on railway platforms and face a vulnerable life full of exploitation, abuse, addiction and humiliation. But what is it like to look at their lives from their own point of view? What if a 12-year-old decides to open a window to show you what he goes through in that life? This thought haunted filmmaker and former software engineer Prithvi Konanur after he stumbled on a research book on railway children while looking for a topic for his next film. Lalitha Iyer and Malcolm Harper’s book Rescuing Railway Children, coupled with research on actual runaway cases, firmed Prithvi’s resolve o make a film on the topic.
The cast was kept as real as possible. Non-actors, mainly children and social workers, were roped into the project. “The right casting is over half the work done,” Prithvi told The Sunday Guardian.
Railway Children, the film named after the children who travel by railways after running away from home, and settle on platforms, was the only Kannada film in the India Gold section of the recently held MAMI festival. Of the 170 entries received in the section, only 11 were short-listed for screening. Railway Children was one of them.
“Many children run away from homes using trains every year. Their harmless intention of earning a living turns them into addicts and criminals. This particular film explores this world through the eyes of Raju, a 12-year-old runaway. He steps out to an unknown, never-seen-before world on the railway platform. He is timid, insecure and unsure. The boy falls into the hands of a gang involved in illegal platform businesses. Raju meets a gangmember Jollu — of the same age, a boy addicted to solution, who teaches Raju about the tricks and trades of living on a railway platform. Raju slowly gets used to the platform life and is emboldened in his approach towards life. Soon, Raju and Jollu start a competing business with the boss of the gang. But this dangerous move has its own perils and repercussions,” Prithvi said.
Many poignant and realistic scenes have been portrayed in the real life-paced film. It shows how children are easy preys for the dark gangs operational in the vicinity, how they are drug-addicted. The scare-mongering about the government houses, which are perceived to be torture places, is also put across in a non-dramatised and realistic way. The sexual harassment they face, and try to bear with the help of substance abuse, is a disturbing reality.
Small touches like the young protagonist drawing himself as a moushtached man, are moving. When young Raju, who has run away from home in search of a better future, is told by friends that a kid is not sexually exploitated once he grows a moushtache, he takes it very seriously. It is then that he starts shaving at the young age of 12 years. The film portrays the children’s intrinsic desire of carving out a ‘home’ from the dungeons they are thrown into. When Raju is made to live in an open pipe along with another child, he still tries to make curtains over the pipe. A ‘toran’ is made out of discarded soft drink cans. The issues the film tries to touch on, are many.
The main challenge while making the film was that of funding. Prithvi and his friends initially tried to fund the production through crowd-sourcing. It succeeded partially. Then, many kind-hearted individuals stepped in and made personal donations for the film’s completion. Some even volunteered to act in small roles.
“Railway Children makes an honest attempt to explore the intimate and harsh realities of platform survival. In this world of platform-survival there are gangs, there’s drugs, there’s sexual violence, there’s entrepreneurial spirit, there’s life, there’s hope, there are helping hands and there are cruel bosses,” Prithvi said.