What prompts an engineer from IIT Kharagpur, with a secure job at an MNC, to throw it all away and start making non-fiction films on the passengers of the Indian Railways’ unreserved compartment? The answer is quite simple — passion. Samarth Mahajan’s, The Unreserved, is a documentary portraying the lives of the general compartment travellers from all over India, and he achieved this with a three-member crew on ten trains in 17 days.
While travelling, we interviewed a Kashmiri who had mixed feelings about India and Pakistan, that made us realise that things aren't as binary as we think. Such matters are more in a grey area
Samarth Mahajan, Documentary maker
"I read an article written by Mahatma Gandhi in 1917 titled the Third Class in Indian Railways. I was pretty amazed and had to acknowledge that whatever he had written in 1917 is still very relevant even today," says Samarth. This film is one of India’s first attempts to understand the stories and lives of the country’s most common commuters.
Samarth points out that the biggest revelation to him through the project was understanding how open the people can be. "We had a lot of preconceptions. We didn't know if people would talk to us or not, but when I was willing to share stories from my life, people were willing to share their stories too."
Unheard stories: Samarth with an 82-year-old ex-serviceman
India's film audience hasn't yet accepted non-fiction films, and as a result, film-makers with content like Samarth have to dedicate a share of their time to making corporate videos and covering events to fund their documentary-making expenses.
The 26-year-old Punjabi started off by making one-minute videos in college and after quitting his job and becoming a full-time film-maker, he has done several documentaries. Samarth is currently pursuing the Young India Fellowship from Ashoka University, Haryana.