In nature’s company

Patterns of Life - Prana, a documentary film, traces the lives of three tribal communities from Idukki district, narrating their daily encounters

Published: 01st September 2020 04:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st September 2020 04:27 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: On December 10, 2017, Shino Cherian, a film institute student, and Vipin A Davis, an entrepreneur, made their way to Marayoor, a town in Kerala’s Idukki district, to capture the picturesque views of the town. “We stayed there for a week and casually shot a series of videos, interacted with the tribes and were informed that a tribal festival atop the mountains was to be conducted. We grabbed the opportunity and attended the festival and shot footages of it too.

Until then, it was just inquisitiveness and the search for inspiration that drove us. We didn’t have an agenda,” says Shino. But on revisiting the videos, the duo realised that it had the potential for a possible travel documentary. “We were always fond of BBC Travel’s documentaries. So instead of focusing on mainstream film-making, we decided to tap on what we had found, and in the process, show the world that we could make quality documentaries that are beyond the usual, in India too,” shares Shino, recalling the origins of Patterns of Life - Prana, a documentary film, tracing the lives of three tribal communities from Idukki district, along the Western Ghats — the Muthuvans, Ooralis and Mannans.

“For city-bred youngsters like us, who are used to living amid concrete buildings and surviving with the aid of tech-tools, it was refreshing to find these tribes living in harmony with nature. So, we went on to explore more about their lives, culture, food and way of living,” says Vipin. 

Prana is a collaboration of film students

Capturing moments
Soon, joined by a team of like-minded young creatives, the duo travelled back to Marayoor in January 2018, and began filming the landscapes and the people who make it. “After a break, in June 2018, we resumed our second schedule of shooting at the tribal catchment areas in Idukki. But since this was a private project, funding was an issue. But serendipitously, help came through friends and well-wishers. We began crowdfunding and it helped us push through. A year later, in June 2019, we went on to shoot in Idukki during the monsoons,” says Shino.

Capturing the changing landscapes and weather was important for the tone of the documentary, he tells us. “Their livelihoods change according to the weather. For example, the Mannan community, during the onset of monsoons depends on fishing for survival. After the monsoons, during summers, they begin cultivating crops. So, their life revolves around the myriad moods of nature. And for the last three years, our lives have revolved around theirs!” says the filmmaker, who along with Vipin, directed the documentary. 

Travelling across different mountains and seasons, carrying pieces of equipment for the shoot and tools for sustenance, the team captured, what they call “the forgotten people of India”. Though the tribal community was warm, hospitable and accommodating, as adults, we had to fend for ourselves. So, cooking with a view of a magnificent waterbody, and camping under the clouds and stars for a while became a new normal,” reminisces Shino,  Finding funds

From meeting the oldest woman of the Oorali tribe — a 100-year-old Neeli; capturing the activities of the Mannans, perhaps the only existing tribal kingdom in south India, led by a hereditary king, to documenting the Muthuvan tribe’s language, which originated during the Sangam period and its evolution, which is now a mix of Malayalam and Tamil, the Prana team has been on a journey of a lifetime. “The editing process began in October 2019. And slowly, with help from friends and people who’ve believed in our project, we have been able to work on other post-production aspects too. But, we are still in need of funds to complete the entire process,” he says.

The team has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Wishberry and hopes to raise enough funds to release the documentary by October-November this year. “The project has not only grown on us but has become special to many people who have directly or indirectly been involved in it. From helping us with funds for travel, live-music recording equipment to whatnots, it’s now become what it is because of a larger community’s help,” says Vipin, talking about the film, which is a musical documentary, consisting background scores which bring out the essence of Prana and the journey across these villages. “The film is a collaboration of young film students from across Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; we have all come together to showcase a part of India that most people don’t get to see. These are untold stories that need to be told,” adds Shino. 

After completion, the team hopes to send it to prestigious film festivals across the world, including The Toronto International Festival, Doxa Documentary Fest, International Film Festival Kerala, and International Film Festival of India, Goa. “We want to conduct special screenings and screen it for the tribals too! The community members have never seen them on the celluloid before. To show their lives through our lens and to bring a smile to their faces, is something we are looking forward too,” says Shino.

The Muthuvan people hail from the dynasty of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. The word ‘muthu’ means elder. While migrating to Kerala, the Muthuvans carried the idols of Madurai Meenakshi, the deity of the royal family, and their children on their backs. 

A few hundred years ago, Ooralis had gone into the interior hills of Idukki to escape the heavy taxation of the Kochi kings and fearing Tippu Sultan’s onslaught. They stay in Memari (a tiny hamlet in Idukki, surrounded by the woods of Idukki Wildlife sanctuary). Root vegetables, tapioca, plantain, and paddy form the community’s staple food. Cash crops like coffee, cardamom and areca nut are also found there.
The community is administered by Raja Mannan, the title given to the elected king. Kovilmala is their headquarters. They preserve certain customs, traditions and form of governance, making them unique. They are said to be descendants of the Pandyan Kings and their mother tongue is Tamil.

If all goes well, the documentary will also be streamed on OTT platforms. “That’s the ultimate goal. But for now, we are taking it one step at a time,” adds Vipin.
To contribute to the crowdfunding campaign, visit: or visit Instagram page @patternsoflife.prana



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