On one hand is urban India – prosperous, buoyant, shining bright. Its rural counterpart, however, is caught in the grip of one of the worst agrarian and economic crises of all times. The two are divided by a schism, and citizens in urban areas often know very little or nothing about the other.

Exploring this chasm, this divide between the urban and the rural, is Summer 2007, a feature film set for release on 13 June 2008. Written by Mumbai-based writer Bijesh Jayarajan, directed by Suhail Tatari and produced by Atul Pandey, the film first studies the disconnect between these two sections of society and then follows the coming together of India's cool, happening youth with the agrarian crisis threatening to spiral out of control.

The cast includes Sikandar, Gul Panag, Uvika Choudhary, Arjan Bawa, Alekh Sangal, Vikram Gokhale, Sachin Khedekar, Prashant Narayanan, Sweta Menon and Ashutosh Rana. Neetua Chandra has made a special appearance.

Trailer of Summer 2007 (YouTube)

Talking about how the film's theme came about, writer Jayarajan says he had been toying with the story idea of a gang of friends and their coming of age. At the same time, the Vidarbha crisis was making news. Finally an article by P Sainath on the degradation of medical and health services in Vidarbha gave him the backdrop for his gang of friends.

“For me it became extremely important to bring together the ‘cool’, no-care-in-the-world students with the grim realities of a neglected section of the same country,” says Jayarajan. “The resulting dialectics, the counter currents of viewpoints, the debates, the disbelief, the disenchantment, all made for interesting cinema. At the same time, there was talk about the state strategy to have compulsory rural posting for medical students. All these ideas got amalgamated in Summer 2007,” says Jayarajan.

The story revolves around five friends - all youngsters from India’s buoyant upper middle class, who are studying in a capitation fee-medical college, without a care in the world. They lead an insulated life facilitated by their parents’ economic potency. Their problems of love, sex, girlfriends, exams, and ego are all blown out of proportion as they spice up their blissful existence. The fact that they are studying to be doctors and will be part of the healthcare scenario, a rather key element in the context of any nation’s development, is of no consequence to them. They are just flowing with the tide, nonchalant, in a cocooned existence and want nothing to change.

Then by a cinematic twist of destiny they land up in a village in Vidarbha as a consequence of a wager gone too far. The village is caught in the whirlpool of extreme poverty and farmer suicides. The five friends suddenly are confronted with an India they have never really heard of or seen.

What they witness is appalling and disgraceful to mankind. Predatory money lenders who are the same antiquated feudal lords in a different garb, a healthcare system that is in shambles and people carrying on as if life is the most tedious, arduous battle for them. Giving up life is an easier option in this bleak socio-economic milieu.

"The story came about because it had to be told and we as aware people had to do it. Finding a way to tell it so that it would make for compelling cinema was the difficult part."
-- Writer Bijesh Thiyagarajan

Website: Summer 2007
Trailer on YouTube.

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Initially reluctant and holding back, their inner voice eventually throws up questions. Why is India's progress so lopsided? Why has urban India not shared the pie with poor farmers and rural workers? Where do most of the Indians live – cities or villages? Why does someone who is poor and with a weak political voice not matter? Why is there such income disparity in the new India where there are 36 billionaires and some 800 million people living on less than 80 rupees a day?

And if there is state apathy on one side, then there are inherent social contradictions which contribute to keeping the rural masses servile to the forces of nature and man alike. The five friends understand that the place has reached a boiling point and it is rather fertile for the ultra-left forces to come in and offer a violent solution. The film also explores the possibility of microcredit as a possible non-violent solution to the economic problems of the farmers.

Each of the friends reacts differently to the situations around them. Some come to terms with reality, some undergo a change of heart, and some become even bitter…some fall in love. Thus these few days of rural medical training become cataclysmic in nature as each of them goes through a trial by fire and come out scorched and seasoned. These young guns finally come of age as they come face to face with the bleak and grim reality of the region.

Still from Summer 2007. Film releases on 13 June.

“The story came about because it had to be told and we as aware people had to do it. Finding a way to tell it so that it would make for compelling cinema was the difficult part. We have kept in mind the primary target audience which is the young upwardly mobile who flock the multiplexes. We have tried very hard to make the film dramatic and exciting rather than too pedantic or rhetorical,” elaborates Jayarajan.

Says Jaideep Hardikar, a Nagpur-based journalist, who has researched and written extensively on the Vidarbha agrarian crisis in India Together, “…It’s important that the subject is being discussed in the feature film,” referring to the theme of the agrarian crisis. He however cautions against any one solution being offered through the film. “Given the complexity of the issue, reaching a conclusion without much research could have an adverse impact on public opinion. I hope the film has avoided any sweeping statement on the condition of the farmers… or holding something as solution or end to the crisis,” he adds.

Summer 2007 is connecting the Vidarbha crisis to the mainstream imagination, through the eyes of youngsters. The film releases this week, and how the audience responds and accepts the film and its theme remains to be seen.