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Independent Lens | Powerless

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Watch Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 11pm on WORLD.

There are 1.5 billion people living without electricity worldwide and, of these, 400 million live in India. Kanpur, India, home to over three million people, is a oncebooming industrial center that has been turned into an urban nightmare by a shortage of reliable electricity. With constant power outages that can last up to 15 hours a day, Kanpur is at the epicenter of a global shortage in electricity, identified by the United Nations as the main barrier to social and economic development. Powerless, a new documentary about the devastating impacts of living without electricity, is told through the voices of frustrated citizens, power company officials, and a wily electrician who makes his living by illegally tapping into the power grid. Directed and produced by Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar.

Loha Singh is a 28-year-old electrician renowned for his prowess in stealing electricity, providing illegal connections from one neighborhood to another so that homes, factories, and businesses can function. His work and that of others like him have turned the landscape of the city into a thick and tangled web of ragged wires, sparks, and sudden fire.

Ritu Maheshwari, the first female chief and new to the Kanpur Electricity Supply Company (KESCO), is on a mission to eliminate powerlessness and save the struggling utility. Electricity theft accounts for nearly 30 percent of their losses, aggravating the crisis, and Ritu has created a new task force to tackle the rising theft. Together with the police, KESCO officials try to disconnect the countless illegal connections that Loha and others like him have installed. Initially, Ritu’s efforts meet with some success. But with the hot Indian summer settling in and temperatures reaching 113 degrees, the power problem takes on crisis proportions, with dire implications on the citizen’s lives and livelihoods. What emerges is a picture of a once-thriving city on the brink of chaos.

“My memories of Kanpur are predominantly of long, uncomfortable, waterless summers, spent without electricity,” said filmmaker Fahad Mustafa, who was born in Kanpur. “There were always stories about relatives and friends of the family losing their incomes and businesses. Upon returning to Kanpur many years later I found that the situation remains largely unchanged. The city and its people look back with bitter nostalgia and a sense of loss towards its glorious past and uncertain future. This is a story not only about electricity, but a political reality that millions in India and billions worldwide live with.”

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