Modern Marathi cinema, which has dealt with subjects as current as farmer suicides, famine and the environment, has found its latest inspiration — the Right To Information (RTI) Act.
Released on November 4, Ek Cup Chai (A Cup of Tea) is reportedly the first Indian feature film to portray the Act, and how the citizen-next-door discovers — and wields — it.
Its director Sunil Sukthankar sets the story in the Konkan region, where its principal protagonist, Kashinath Savant, a bus conductor, lives with his mother, wife and four children. Faced with the everyday challenges typical of their economic condition, it is still a happy household, largely due to his wife’s unfailingly positive outlook on life.
Their toughest test comes one day in the shape of an erroneous electricity bill of Rs 73,000. Clearly outside his financial means, the bill upends the family’s simple existence. Savant begins the sapping runaround typically followed by anyone who has tried to get a state-sponsored wrong corrected.
The family’s power is disconnected. Savant’s son, who is studying for his Class 10 Board exam, pores over his books in the dark. Kashinath decides to use the RTI Act to find out the truth behind his inflated bill.
Having researched the subject using both, discussions with RTI activists, and studies of individual cases, Sukthankar decided an individual like Savant would be best suited to portray the complexities of following up on an RTI application.
Sukthankar’s co-director in the project, Sumitra Bhave, has been involved in other socially relevant films before this, including Devrai (2006), which depicts rural Maharashtra’s tradition of segregating spaces where trees are not to be cut, and Nital (2006), which dealt with the social stigma of being a leucoderma patient.
Ek Cup Chai was produced by the Schizopherenic Awareness Association and KM Vani Memorial Trust, who also produced Devrai. The cup of tea in the title of their latest film refers to the traditional Indian euphemism for a bribe.