To highlight the challenges of bringing reliable electricity to the home of every Indian, a documentary film was produced by the Tata Centre for Development (TCD) and Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, which explored a systemic problem in providing access to electricity: the social belief that electricity is a right and not a private good that must be paid for.
The film shows the efforts of academic research and a determined state government helping to light up Bihar. It also shows the complexity of solving a problem that has more to do with social norms and economics, such as engineering and infrastructure.

Through a series of interactions with villagers, power distribution companies, researchers, and government agencies in Bihar, the hour-long documentary uncovers a vicious cycle that threatens the goal of lighting up rural India. The film zooms into how people in Bihar regularly fail to pay their bills while continuing to use electricity. Consequently, power utilities lose significant amounts of money, limiting their capacity to maintain infrastructure and provide electricity at all times of the day. Subjected to unreliable power, customers become even more unwilling to pay, continuing the cycle of low payment and low quality. The film’s title (translated to “It came, it went”) echoes the problem of erratic power supply, which impedes people’s ability to live fulfilling lives and rise out of poverty.

“While it is critical to provide discounted or lifeline style electricity to the poorest, doing so in a way that causes electricity markets to fail harms everyone,” says Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and director of EPIC.
“We believe that the most reliable way to improve electricity access is to replace the social norm that electricity is a right with the norm that it is a regular consumer product like cell phones. That’s what our experiments seek to do,” adds Greenstone, one of the film’s producers.

The documentary, directed by Anandana Kapur, also received the Best Film in the Human Rights category at the 7th Woodpecker International Film Festival. It was among about 700 films from around the world competing in one of India’s largest issue-based festivals.

Watch the film below and explore the website to know more.