Climate change, tribal livelihood: Cinema meets environment at IFFI

Movies such as Taledanda, Koozhangal, Semkhor rise to the occasion to highlight a range of environmental issues staring at mankind today

By Gajanan Khergamker
Published: Monday 29 November 2021
A still from Tamil film Pebbles.
A still from Tamil film Pebbles. A still from Tamil film Pebbles.

The 52nd edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) held in Panjim, Goa was marked by movies used as medium to highlight a range of environmental issues staring at mankind today.

That cinema can play a pivotal role in helping reclaim the environment is now being realised by many a filmmaker who has risen to the cause of transforming society and the world into a better place.

The nine-day event is Asia’s oldest and India’s biggest film festival. A host of movies were screened from November 20-28.

The change was distinctly visible at the IFFI since its 50th edition held in 2019, which featured environment-oriented films like Manju Borah’s In The Land Of Poison Women, Bohubritta, Hellaro and Jallikattu.

This year too, thought-provoking films and documentaries strived to garner attention on critical environmental issues through gripping narrations. What better way to promote and showcase such issue-based films than at national and international film festivals.

Praveen Krupakar’s Kannada film Taledanda —  featuring Sanchari Vijay, MangalaN., Chaitra Achar and Ramesh Pandit — was screened at IFFI 2021. The film had its World Premiere in the Indian Panorama (feature film) section of the film festival.

Taledanda is an attempt to wake up humans from the slumber of greed that is causing destruction of the environment and is braced to affect future generations. The film depicts the life of a person with an intellectual disability abled Soliga tribal Kunnegowda aka Kunna, the protagonist played by late Sanchari Vijay, who lives with his mother in a tribal settlement.

Kunna inherits his deep love for nature from his father who also gave him a wealth of traditional knowledge about the many medicinal qualities of trees and plants in the area. The forest is his home and family and, whenever possible, Kunna plants saplings across the forest.

A local politician manipulates government officials into procuring approval of felling of trees in the village to build a road under the pretext of development. Kunna begins to get visions of Goddess Attilakamma, the mother of forests, being attacked by humans.

A disturbed Kunna does everything possible to stop the cutting of trees and, in the process, even gets into a scuffle with government officials and lands in a legal mess.

A still from the Kannada film Taledanda.

Despite all his efforts, which include sending a message to the chief minister apprising him of the situation in his village, when the felling of trees does not stop, a disappointed Kunna gives up his life.

Director Praveen Krupakar said: “We have destroyed 50 per cent of nature and ecology in the last 100 years. I have witnessed the love of a disabled friend for nature for more than 30 years and this inspired me to do this film. Climate change is real and not imaginary as some of us would like to believe. If this story reaches even 0.1 per cent of the audience, I would think I have done my job.”

Tamil director PS Vinothraj’s Koozhangal (Pebbles) screened at IFFI 2021 in the Indian Panorama (feature film) section starred Chellapandi and Karuththadaiyaan. It is modelled on the harsh terrain of southern Tamil Nadu. The movie was nominated for the ICFT-UNESCO Gandhi Medal at IFFI 2021.

It is also India’s official entry for the 2022 Oscars.

The film depicts a journey undertaken by Ganapathy, an alcoholic and abusive man whose wife ran away after a beating. In order to bring her back, Ganapathy leaves with their son Velu on a difficult journey that traverses an extremely harsh terrain, marked by barren land, scorching heat and water scarcity.

They experience nature’s fury while walking through an arid zone, in the scorching heat. This causes them to confront their emotions. In the end, their hunger and anger are finally satiated by the “nurturing nature of women”.

The director drew inspiration for the film from an incident in his sister’s life.

“I shot the film in my own village as both the story and the landscape were close to my heart. The landscape depicted in the film forms the third character as the behaviour of human beings is also influenced by the climate and geography of where they live. The arid landscape and sweltering hot sun in which the entire plot is set are an important element conditioning the conduct of the characters,” said the director.

Of special mention is the opening film of the Indian Panorama Section of IFFI 2021, Assamese actor Aimee Baruah’s directorial debut Semkhor. Through her film, the director has attempted to showcase the lives of the Samsa community in Semkhor in Assam.

The film is the first Dimasa language film to be screened at IFFI. The Samsa people live very close to nature and shun everything modern.

The actor-director, through Semkhor, has attempted to dismiss superstitions associated with the nature-loving community known to go through extreme lengths to retain their ethnicity while staying socially isolated even largely misunderstood by the rest.

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