Zooming in on three prize winners

  • 30/05/1992

THREE documentaries that have just won the 39th National Film Awards this year are a welcome addition to the growing body of audio-visual material on science and environment. The pity is that apart from a possible late night telecast on Doordarshan or a littlepublicised screening at the Films Division auditorium in Delhi, opportunities to see such films are most limited.

For those of us neither hardy nor fortunate enough to make it to the heart of Silent Valley there is an eloquent video document that surfaced among the award winners this year. Called Silent Valley - An Indian Rainforest, it is intended as an educative film in the National Geographic genre, featuring lots of painstaking wildlife photography and a relatively simple message on why tropical rainforests are invaluable for humankind.

At one level, Silent Valley is just a wildlife film with superb photography and an often humorous, well-paced commentary-that takes in life on the forest flcor, in the trees overhead, and among the larger animals. You can almost feel the dank steaminess of a jungle which receives 280 inches of rainfall a year and practically no sunlight, thanks to a dense canopy above.

There is quiet violence: a cobra wrestles with a rat snake and finally kills it, in a tortuous sequence. There is love, as a Travancore tortoise plods up to a female and biffs her as a prelude to mating. And there is camaraderie - Nilgiri langurs scratch each other's backs high up in the treetops.

At another level, Silent Valley is a post-campaign film.recording the first victory scared by the Indian environmental movement against a big project. It does this briskly, and offers an eloquent comparison by just showing what happened to another unprotected valley a stone's throw from Silent Valley, Virgin forest to wasteland. It also simulates what would have hap- pened to the valley if it had been sacrificed to a hvdroelectric project. Though it loses pace in the, second half, it is on balance a valuable educational film.

The film, which took a yearaDd-a-half to make, establishes Shekar Dattatri as a top class cameraman and wildlife cinernatographer. It won awards for best scientific film and best cinematography.

In contrast, the award winner for the best investigative film Bhogirathi Ki Pukaar, is a campaign' film first and foremost, sacrificing aesthetics to polemics. This is not a criticism: it merely tries to assert unequivocally that the government has no business going ahead with the Tehri dam after last October's earthquake. There is an interview with a geologist in which, listing the major earthquakes recorded in the Himalayan range, he says the next one could well be in the Tehri region. This was before the. earthquake.

Tile film's drawback is that it does not give the UP government its say on why it persists in going ahead against all sane counsel. To have put the chief minister before the camera and grilled him would have added considerably to its credibility.

Bhogirathi Ki Pukaar Or ments the history of the Tebria"m project since it was first conceived three decades ago, It makes Sunderlal Bahuguna the film's mascot since he makes a populist peroration in the. beginning, and the camera constantly returns to his numerous protest marches, It also records the opposition Tehri women have to the project, and their resolve that they will not allow the dam to be built.

The government is represented by Maneka Gandhi because the film was shot when she was the Union environment minister, She makes it clear that she belongs to the antidam Iobbv but pleads helplessness saying that her ministry alone cannot stop the project.

The third film is quite different. Mudialy Ektibikolau Pantho (The Mudialy Alternative), which won the national award this year in the best environment film category, is the story of a fisherman's wealth. Located on the edge of Calcutta, the Mudialy cooperative transforms 23 million cubic litres of sewage that flows in there every day into water fit for pisciculture. How this is done how four simple fishermen in their eighties provide leadership to this cooperative; how they scraped together the funds to lease the ponds from the Calcutta Port Trust after banks turned them down, is the story of this film. Not a very well-made film, but it narrates a story worth telling.

Calling film makers...

This regular column will feature new films and TV serials on environment. science and development. We would, therefore, appreciate information on films that are being made or are to be released shortly. This will enable us to be as comprehensive as possible in our review coverage.
Write to: The editor, Down to Earth, F-6 Kailash Colony, New Delhi 100 048