Ramesh Yanthra's 33-minute documentary, Gudiyam Caves: Stone Age Rock Shelters of South India, will screen at the Short Film Corner in the 68th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, running from May 13 to 24.
The Corner is an important segment of the Marche du Festival or Market, which in many ways has been instrumental in pushing the Festival on the French Riviera to reach the skies. (The Market is organised along with the Festival.) The two other most renowned European festivals in Berlin and Venice have suffered because they have not had any worthwhile markets.
Yanthra's movie has been beautifully shot by V. Vasanthakumar, and he told HT in Chennai the other day that he had used all kinds of cameras, including a helicam and even a mobile phone to shoot the documentary.
The film is a revelation of sorts. For not many even in Chennai, which is just 65 km from the Gudiyam Caves, know that these exist. The documentary helps us understand the authenticity and beauty of the prehistoric Stone Age caves or shelters of South India.
As has been the case on many occasions, it needed a Westerner to discover, explore and write about the Caves. The British geologist, Robert Bruce Foote, investigated them for the first time in 1864 and documented them in the Geological Survey of India Memoir in 1873.
Later excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India near Gudiyam shed light on the rock caves and also led to the emergence of other facts. The region was occupied by the Acheulian people between 1.07 and 1.80 million years ago -- the oldest known site in India today.
A movie like Yanthra's can immensely help in spreading information about the Gudiyam Caves. Yanthra -- who did fine arts -- first came across the Caves during one of his study tours that involved sketching and painting. "I was amazed when I learnt that Palaeolithic men lived in those Caves 100,000 years ago", the director said in the course of a chat with HT.
He regretted that while the Caves were part of a reserve forest in Tamil Nadu, they were not protected by either the Archaeological Survey or the State Archaeology Department. "This unique prehistoric site would soon be damaged if human interference and vandalism go unchecked", Yanthra felt. Anyone can walk around the Caves and even get under them. They look more like shelters with protruding roofs. Interestingly, the shelters are such that many people can live under them -- the largest of them being able to accommodate 1000 men and women. They will not get wet even during the heaviest of rain!
The prehistoric folks who lived around the Gudiyam Caves were hunter-gatherers, and they had not even discovered fire then. So, they ate fruits, leaves and raw meat. They made weapons out of stones and rocks to kill animals.
"It will be sad if the Gudiyam Caves are left unprotected. A great part of India's archaeological and geological history can vanish", rues Yanthra. Undoubtedly so.
However, Yanthra's work, backed three years of hard work and dedication, may -- when screened at Cannes -- draw attention to the plight of the Gudiyam Caves. They now stand hoping for care and attention.