Powerless | Tribeca Film Festival 2013
Kanpur, once known as the “Manchester of the East,” now is sure to decay under an increasing energy deficiency. The citizens of the city demand the government subsidize electricity – especially since many children and infants lie sick in the hospital. Ritu Maheshwari, the newly appointed Managing Director of KESCO (the local power company), is not quick to provide complimentary electricity, but rather is intent on recouping the revenue the population refuses to pay and catching those who steal service. Debt collectors are amassed to track down citizens who use katiyas (finagled wires that siphon off energy from the wealthy and provide for those without). Loha Singh is the king of the energy borrowing Robin Hood bandits, and is dedicated to keeping KESCO out of his neighborhood.
Powerless is built on shockwaves and outages. The overarching narrative – a once great North Indian city now crippled by an energy crisis – is intriguing. Filmmakers Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar center on Maheshwari and Singh as oppositional characters of the same coin: the former knows such criminal behavior (though arguably justified) can only lead to ruin, while the latter believes the lack of power is nothing more than corporate corruption – and his case is difficult to argue with. This microcosm may be important, but ultimately comes off as utterly dull.
Viewers will notice offbeat editing in the investigation of the lives of these two characters, which should be interesting but is sadly inadequate. The real entertainment value in Powerless lies in the camerawork, which captures burning generators, dare-deviling through live power lines, and mass blackouts.
In the end, Powerless is ambiguous, letting viewers decide a course of action for the energy problem in Kanpur – the mark of a worthy documentary.
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Watch the trailer for Powerless here: