Nila Madhab Panda's Kadvi Hawa is a gently told tale of a family caught in the cusp of climate change
What happens to farmers when seasons become extreme or elusive? They are pushed into an existential quandary. Gradually, a famished existence tightens the noose around them. Nila Madhab Panda’s Kadvi Hawa is an indictment of climate change deniers and a telling reminder that all is not well with our world.
The director walks us through the parched landscape of drought-hit Mahua village in Rajasthan’s Chambal region, where the soil was once the provider, but has now become dead stones. No one can pin hopes on such a land, not even an old and blind man—Hedu—played by Sanjay Mishra. Years of deficit rain has challenged his wisdom. The winds have not brought rain-bearing clouds to his village for many years, and he wonders what has gone wrong: Na jaane kya ho gaya usko, kaise bimaar ho gayi woh (Wonder what’s wrong with the wind, it is as if it is struck by pestilence).
For those who toil and till the land, the wait for the rains is agonising. Hedu’s son, Mukund (played by Bhupesh Singh), is one such farmer whose energy and the will to live have been snapped by kadvi hawa (bitter wind). While news-papers provide us data on farmer deaths, they mask the sense of despair and the wailing of the widows whose husbands have succumbed to ignominy. We don’t get to see their angst-ridden faces waiting for nature’s mercies; and perhaps, we don’t understand what it means to suppress hunger and yet pretend not to be hungry.
What these faceless data also don’t reveal is the complex politics at play. On the one hand is a distraught population, struggling to make ends meet, and on the other, is a system that is more punitive and coercive, rather than being supportive and emancipating. For the local people, the ruthless bank loan recovery agent, played by Ranvir Shorey, is the yamdoot (harbinger of death). His arrival in any village spells doom for debt-ridden farmers who are forced to commit suicide.
Paradoxically, while the bank agent conjures up the image of death, Hedu, the patriarch of the family, represents hope. Despite being blind and not on talking terms with his son, he follows him like a shadow, for he seems to know what the kadvi hawa portends for his family’s future. This fear of an approaching tragedy lurks behind an apparently languid setting. The tacit acceptance of status quo by Mukund’s wife (Tilottoma Shome) and the earnest efforts of Mukund’s father to salvage his son from the debt trap adds to the mounting tension in the script.
Kadvi Hawa, without sermonising on climate change and hazarding a blanket solution, accentuates the landscape of misery with bold characters caught in overwhelming circumstances. It offers an aerial perspective of victimisation of the poorest of the poor, whose sufferings are not of their making. The film also sends a strong message: climate change is a threat to both the rich and the poor alike. It bridges the gap between the powerful and the powerless when you see even the yamdoot lisping prayers when he hears that a super cyclone has ravaged his native place, Kendrapada—a coastal district in Odisha. Given the predicament, the people can’t help but wonder: Where can we seek an ounce of relief?
Farmers are society's providers. Yet their importance is fast erodingThe director of Kadvi Hawa, NILA MADHAB PANDA speaks to Down To Earth
While drought and farmer suicides due to the failure of monsoon have become synonymous with places like Marathwada or Bundelkhand, you have chosen the Chambal region for the setting of your film. Why?
I did not just want to depict drought, but the larger issue of extreme climate. To show the suffering of people who are living in extreme conditions that even defy the conventional definition of summer, I wanted a visually stunning setting that could shake up the audience. Chambal's bone-dry ravines provided that lifeless scorched landscape that can evoke a sense of misery.
In the film, who do you think contributes more towards the plight of farmers—a changing climate or the ruthless loan recovery agent?
When a disaster occurs, it is our human instinct to think only about our own survival. This is what a hostile environment does to us. I experienced this year's floods in Mumbai from close quarters. In those four or five hours, people did not bother to know how others would survive. Similarly, in the film, if we see the blind old man (Mukund's father), his selfish motive forces him to make a deal with Gunu (the loan recovery agent) so that he can survive and save his son. Similarly, Gunu does not care about farmers committing suicide. He is only concerned about recovering money and earning a higher commission so that he can bring his family from Odisha. For both of them, being selfish is the only way to survive.
Was it deliberate not to include any voice from the government in the film?
I look at it in a different way. Instead of pointing fingers at the government, I think of what we can do as individuals to generate awareness about issues so that others also start talking about these concerns. So my objective was to make a film to create a buzz. To get people talking about climate change and environment is important, especially when the discourse on environment has been reduced to a few posts on the social media on World Environment Day. Apart from that, there is hardly anyone talking about the issue earnestly. Blaming the government alone won't help, and people also need to share the blame for not understanding the gravity of the situation.
Farmers have contributed almost nothing to climate change, and yet they are the worst-hit.
That is an irony. The importance of farmers in the society is fast eroding despite them being the providers. Those who help us run our kitchens are themselves starving. But surprisingly, loan waivers are being presented as a great favour we are doing to the farmers. If I were to become Prime Minister, my priority would be to bring youth to farming and encourage a new sense of enterprise through farming. It is happening in our country, but only in some small pockets. Looking at our geography and resources, if we focus on farming, the country's identity can change; its economy can change.