Unquiet flows the Chaliyar

  • 14/11/1999

 Unquiet flows the Chaliyar the visual medium has given a new dimension to political action. Whether it is the conflict in Kargil or elections, television has become a tool that is used to mould opinion about political parties, both in power and in the opposition. However, those political actions that fall outside the mainstream party politics or those which belong to the realm of what is called the new social movement, have very few takers as far as visual medium is concerned. Recognising the importance of the medium, these movements have tried to argue their cause by making documentary films that they circulate in society with the help of non-government organisations and individuals sympathetic to their cause. Directed by Sridevi Mohan, Unquiet flows the Chaliyar is one such film. It documents the struggle of the people of Mavoor in Kerala against the pollution of the Chaliyar River by the Birla-owned Grasim industry.

Director Mohan, has no pretensions of being objective. He has dedicated the film to K Abdul Rahman the main figure behind the struggle against the polluting industry. By doing so, Mohan has made it clear that the film reflects the cause of the local people.

Rahman was diagnosed with cerebral and lung cancer in 1997 and he died on January 17, 1999. He believed that the cause of his illness was the sulphur dioxide-laden air that is released from the factory and mercury-contaminated water of the Chaliyar River. This water is used by the village people for drinking and domestic purposes. Rahman single-handedly initiated the movement to oust Grasim Ltd.

Though short, the film is an excellent example of reportage-cum-analysis with remarkable attempts to link a micro project to questions related to the larger notionof development. Mohanhas not only interviewedvictims but also the culprits. There is Pathukkutty and Suseela, who vehemently complain that they suffer from skin diseases if they so much as touch the water of the river.

On the other hand, the film shows N Saboo, president of Grasim Industries, claiming that all allegations against the factory are false and the management has been issued a clean chit from the pollution control board. He very proudly says that the unit has one of the most modern effluent treatment plants in the country. Then there are children from the orphanage, who complain of giddiness and bronchial disorders due to the smoke released from the factory. Hassan, who is not even 10, is emphatic in his claim that the factory should be shut down.

Excellent camera work includes shots in which it is difficult to distinguish between the sewage and river water. However, there are moments in the film when, perhaps, Mohan could have avoided any background commentary or music, because the message would have been conveyed in any case. One such shot is where the effluent pipe empties into the river.

The director, however, shies away from tackling the