The power of documentary cinema lies in its ability to inform, shock and surprise us. And the ongoing 6th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala here threw up several such movies, some short, some long.
Aakash Arun’s In Search of Destiny talks about the boys and men who dive into the Yamuna every day, searching for coins that travellers offer to the river as a prayer to have their wishes fulfilled. It is an ancient superstition which now provides the livelihood for some 600 people, who spend many hours in water to pick up coins, each earning up to Rs 600 on a good day.
Equally fascinating was what Piyush Pande had to say in his The Man Who Planted The Jungle. In 1953, the short note about the film in the brochure says, French author Jean Giono wrote a story called The Man Who Planted Trees, and made the protagonist appear so real that readers just fell in love with him, and soon with the trees the man adored. This was Giono’s clever little trick to get men and women closer to nature. Giono’s character was a figment of imagination.
But Pandey’s hero is not. Living on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Assam, he began planning saplings three decades ago when a huge patch of land was destroyed of vegetation after the river flooded the area. Today, the region is a lush forest, thanks to the tireless drive of the man who converted bareness into beautiful greenery where even tigers are now spotted.
Other documentary movies came up with disturbing revelations. The Plastic Cow by Kunal Vohra told us graphically how despite Indians’ reverence for the animal, it was being neglected and even poisoned to death by non-degradable waste. When a cow stops producing milk, its owner abandons it. And left to fend for itself, it begins to eat garbage, plastic included. Till, the plastic unable to pass through the stomach turns hard, almost rocklike, eventually killing the cow. The film showed even a surgery being performed on a sick animal and a huge chunk of solid plastic weighing about 50 kg removed!
Plastic must of course be banned, but this is easier said than done. In Tamil Nadu, for example, despite a restriction on plastic, big shops blatantly violate the rule.
Vaidehi Chitre’s Bottle Masala In Moile talks about another kind of cruelty, this time perpetrated on the East Indian community in Mumbai. Land sharks – government agencies and real estate agents included – have been trying to grab the ancestral properties of this essentially Roman Catholic community. Through innumerable instances, Chitre shows us the kind of harassment the East Indians face, the enormous pressure they are subjected to – all in an effort to displace them from their homes.
Some of these films shock us, and are extremely useful instruments of information, capable of provoking a debate. But how many people get around seeing them with the result that much of a valuable opportunity is lost.