In January, I had the privilege of joining the Greenpeace team for a trip to Singrauli. After a two-hour flight, nine-hour drive, and an overnight stay in a shady motel, we finally arrived at our destination. At 8am, I was on a hot air balloon floating over the Mahan forest in the Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh, talking to a TV channel that was covering us live. Why? Because the coal industry is lobbying to cut down the forest for coal-mining.
Mining has been in the news lately and for good reason. The trip was much more eventful and eye-opening than I had expected. From avoiding a scuffle with some local goons to being threatened by a “Naxal attack”. From trying to play peacemaker between villagers and company officials, to ironically encouraging the locals to keep a peaceful protest alive and not going down the “Naxal” route!
I’m not sure how much awareness I was able to raise about Singrauli. The folks at Greenpeace were very happy, they said that my presence there had brought the media and so at least it was in the news.
But I have never felt the fear and presence of "Big Brother" watching us ever before that. I could not stop thinking of movies such as Brazil and Avatar and even 1984. All those doomsday scenarios, evil corporations, corrupt officials and tortured innocents portrayed in those films were right there in front of me. For real! It wasn’t in the future, or on another planet, or even another country. It was in my own backyard and I was far removed and ignorant about it.
They say ignorance is bliss. It is true. I have lost my bliss. I am a filmmaker not an activist. But if I am expected to stand like a patriot when the National Anthem is played in the cinemas before the start of a show, then am I not, as a patriot, expected to fight for the rights of those robbed of their livelihood, or even killed, in the name of progress? Oh yes I forgot, they don’t serve popcorn before a protest march. Maybe the idea is to be proud of the country for showing or making the film you are about to see. Or for making multiplexes tax free!