Atmanirbhar – The film about 15-year-old Jyoti Kumari Paswan


When the history of the present times of this country is written, not only will it record the failure of the current regime in managing a crisis but will acknowledge the struggles of common people, the labourers, children and women who covered hundreds of kilometres on foot to return home in the absence of any help from the government.  The first two months of the lockdown triggered a migration crisis that saw millions of workers and their families stranded in cities across the country trying to make their way home. Of the stories of struggle and endurance that emerged, some will stay with us forever.

One among them is the inspiring tale of 15-year-old Jyoti Kumari Paswan, who cycled for around 10 days from Gurgaon to Darbhanga in Bihar. Scared that they would not have a roof over their head during the lockdown, Kumari decided to cycle back home. With trains and buses grounded and her father being unable to walk, she purchased a cycle for ₹1,600 from an acquaintance with the promise of paying the other half of the amount later. She covered around 30 to 40 kms every day, except once when she was offered a lift for a short distance by a truck driver. The girl and her father would stop at a petrol pump to rest the night and would proceed with their journey every morning. You can say this deserved the ‘captured the imagination’ phrase as well. Where you see misery, we see our imagination captured. Where you see adversity, we see opportunity. India had discovered a potential sporting icon from the detritus of its moral collapse.

While the food ministry could not provide food, rail and transport ministries could not offer wheels and home ministries provided police lathis, the sports ministry was watching the sport and spotting talent.   So, all the migrants wanted to get home somehow and they made it home. Somehow. Their objectives are modest and memories short. Besides that, what happened to them during the lockdown wasn’t something new, however terrible the optics may look to the middle class now heartbroken because you witnessed the apathy of the system, their naked feet with your own naked eyes. Thanks to the lockdown, they had little else to do but notice the misery of the masses that live in their midst. The invisible became visible and what a sight it was!

Kumari caught the attention of the world, including that of Ivanka Trump who lauded the teen’s “beautiful feat of endurance & love”.

Impressed with Kumari’s spirit and endurance, the Indian Cycling Federation had decided to invite the Class 8 student for trials. And Super 30 founder Anand Kumar offered her free IIT-JEE coaching. And the opportunities continue to flow. Now Kumari will play herself in a film titled Atmanirbhar. As per PTI reports, Wemakefilmz, a nearly two-decade-old venture currently run by four Friends, has bagged the rights for the life story of the girl and the project is set to go on floors from August. “Bahut achha lag raha hai (I feel very good),” Jyoti told the news agency on being signed up for the film. Atmanirbhar will seek to explore not only the tale of the arduous journey but also the systemic issues which forced her to cycle thousands of kilometres.

The film will be shot in locations that were part of Kumari’s journey from Gurugram to Darbhanga. It will be made in Hindi, English, and Maithili and will be dubbed into other languages. For the international audience, the title will be “A Journey of a Migrant” and the film will be subtitled in 20 languages, Krishna said. “Bahut change ho gaya (a lot has changed),” the girl said over the phone when asked what had changed for her and her family after all the media attention. It has been an eventful fewmonths for Kumari – a 1,200 km journey, a Bollywood director sponsoring her education, a trial offer from the Indian Cycling Federation and now a movie, where she plays herself. Who would’ve thought this ride would take her to the top of the world?

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