BENGALURU: It was 2015 when the documentary filmmaker Rajani Mani moved to a high-rise apartment in Whitefield. Upon living there, she noticed massive beehives on the balconies and ledges on the top floors. This was a cause of concern for her.
And the use of fire, smoke and pesticides to remove the hives wasn’t something she wanted to try either. She made an effort to learn more about the insects, shared information with her neighbours who eventually gave her the idea to create a feature film called Colonies in Conflict. The film, which explores the state of wild bees in India’s rapidly expanding urban ecosystems, was recently screened in the city.
“I started filming in October 2019, and by March 2020, India was in the grip of the first wave of the pandemic. I used this time to work on my story and focussed on the various narratives that I could employ to make an effective film,” she says, adding that she restarted work in December 2020 and filmed until the end of March 2021. “A week after my last shoot, I was down with Covid-19. It took me almost three months to recover from the havoc the virus unleashed in my body. However, October to March were always ideal months to film Apis Dorsata (the giant honey bee), in the city,” Mani adds.
Flowering trees in Bengaluru attract the Rockbee colonies during this time. “The bees, and all other insects, briefly did well during the pandemic. I was also able to focus on my main protagonist — my neighbour Pranitha Penmetsa, who had a hive on her balcony in 2019, and again in 2020,” the filmmaker explains.
The 74-minute film uncovers human-inflicted actions that accelerate an insect apocalypse. Made in a first-person account from Mani’s backyard, the film is a montage of insects everywhere. She says, “Wild honeybee hives are a common sight in India. Decades ago, these beehives were seen on large trees, but as cities expanded and trees were cleared to make way for high-rise apartments, the wild bees adapted.”
Filmed over two years, it is probably the first film to study Rockbees closely. The film follows the bees through its various migratory landscapes — the city, the field, and the forest.
In the end, the film conveys that the world needs to sit up and take notice of the vanishing biodiversity of the global south — forest fires, melting icebergs, rising temperatures, which are the result of insatiable human greed. The film is researched, incorporating insights from taxonomists and biologists.
If anyone is interested in a private screening, visit coloniesinconflict.com