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Film on anthropologist comes to city

The tribals of central and eastern India may have roamed through the jungles in a state of nudity before Independence, but in the eyes of British anthropologist Verrier Elwin, they were far more civilised than the “so-called civilised world outside”.

mumbai Updated: Mar 12, 2010 01:14 IST
Aarefa Johari

The tribals of central and eastern India may have roamed through the jungles in a state of nudity before Independence, but in the eyes of British anthropologist Verrier Elwin, they were far more civilised than the “so-called civilised world outside”.

In his first documentary film, Angel of the Aboriginals: Dr. Verrier Elwin, filmmaker Biswajeet Bora pays a sentimental tribute to Elwin, the man responsible for bringing into the limelight the cultures and problems of Indian tribes as the country moved towards independence.

“Though an outsider, Elwin learnt tribal languages, understood their culture, and tried his best to improve their condition,” said Bora (29), who has worked as an assistant editor for Bollywood filmmaker Jahnu Barua and made his first feature film, in his mother tongue Assamese, in 2007.

“It’s important not to forget a man who gave his whole life to a section of Indians neglected by our own national workers and missionaries,” he added.

Always interested in socially relevant subjects, Bora was inspired by a newspaper article on Elwin and Ramachandra Guha’s book, Savaging the Civilised: Verrier Elwin, his tribals and India (1999). He wanted more people to know about Elwin, who came to India as a missionary in 1927, became an Indian citizen and also received a Padma Bhushan. Bora, who uses old photographs and present-day footage of colourful tribal dances to portray Elwin as the undisputed hero of Indian tribes said: “I met Elwin’s second wife, a tribal from Meghalaya, who still lives in Shillong.”

“I wanted the focus to be on his philanthropic work, not on the controversies surrounding his personal life,” he added.

In several places, particularly in Orissa, Bora was barred from shooting due to the current Naxal problem. “Elwin predicted in the 50’s and 60’s that tribal culture would collapse if overexposed to the modern world, and today he has been proved right,” said Bora.

[Angel of the Aboriginals: Dr Verrier Elwin (English, 45 mins) will be launched on Saturday at 6 pm, at Jnanapravaha, Queen’s Mansion, Fort.)