A cat-and-mouse game of electricity theft unfolds in Kanpur, India, a city that once prided itself as “the Manchester of the East” for its many factories, but now many of its three million people cannot afford their power bills. Desperate times call for desperate measures and that means outlaw electricians like Loha Singh risk life and limb to connect the disconnected.
Loha seems to have the magic talent to decipher and handle the tangled sea of live wires but this is dangerous business involving potentially explosive transformers.
He has to literally hold his breath at times to protect himself from electrocution. A hero to many locals but a scourge to the power company, is Loha a modern day Robin Hood, or is he making matters worse by taking the law — and power — into his own hands?
To Loha and many other frustrated locals, the real enemy is Ritu Maheshwari, the first female chief of the Kanpur Electricity Supply Company (KESCO). But she sees herself as on a mission to eliminate powerlessness. Electricity theft accounts for nearly 30 percent of all losses to KESCO, aggravating the crisis, and she has constituted a new task force to tackle the problem.
In Powerless, we see the power company’s attempts to disconnect the countless illegal connections that Loha and others like him have installed. And in truth, they agree on at least one thing: both point out that it isn’t just the poor, but also the rich who steal electricity. “How much can the government subsidize?” she asks.
With the hot Indian summer settling in and temperatures reaching 113 degrees, the electricity problem takes on crisis proportions, with dire implications on the citizen’s lives and livelihoods. Tensions mount as more and more of the city suffers through prolonged outages, as more people and businesses sit in darkness, while KESCO line workers fear for their physical safety due to the angry mobs surrounding them.
One business owner says just having 24 straight hours of electricity, something we take for granted in the USA, would make his business flourish. Powerless provides no easy answers, but is a tense portrayal of a once-thriving city on the brink of chaos.
Fahad Mustafa, Director/Producer
Fahad Mustafa was born in Kanpur, grew up in the Middle East, and has lived, studied, and worked in India, Europe, and North America. Fahad has previously worked as a freelance writer on energy and development issues in India. Mustafa’s first feature-length documentary was FC Chechnya. He lives in New Delhi, India.
Deepti Kakkar, Director/Producer
Deepti Kakkar has worked in the field of social development and sustainable livelihood in India and Vienna. She has previously directed a film on microfinance in India, and worked on story development and as production manager on FC Chechnya. Kakkar lives in Ghaziabad, India.