When Sunanda Bhat decided to make a film on one of the Adivasi communities in Wayanad, Kerala, her biggest challenge was breaking away from how mainstream media had depicted them so far – not as a community that needed to be pitied or taken care of, but as people who are no different from anyone else.
Her documentary, Ningal Aranaye Kando? that translates to ‘Have you seen the Arana?’ completes that challenge well.
Screened in the city on Tuesday as a part of the environmental-centered activities being hosted by Goethe-Zentrum this month, the award-winning documentary was accompanied by its maker as well who got talking about her film.
“I initially wanted to look into farmer suicides in the area. I had read a series of articles by P Sainath which gave me the idea. But when I began my research, the loss of biodiversity and by extension the loss of the Adiya way of life caught my attention. That’s why I made the film,” she explains.
The documentary talks about the life of the ‘Adiya’ community and how their relationship with the flora and fauna around them is deteriorating owing to “foreign life”, as one elder in the movie says. Other factors like large scale cultivation of commercial crops replacing the traditional ways of cultivation, utilising the space for promotion of tourism and so on are also affecting the Adiya way of life.
Spending almost five years of research on the lifestyle of the community, it took one paddy cycle to shoot the film. Joking that she is slow with her work, she admits that the whole idea was a complex one. “I didn’t know the language and that was a handicap. I needed people to be with me all the time. Apart from that, representing those Adivasis and portraying their lives without romanticising it too much was a task,” she says. Added to that, convincing people that a relatively healthy looking place was losing out on its bio diversity was another task.
“Wayanad is such a green, lush place and I am talking about the deterioration and disappearance of the bio-diversity. Making a film considering all these factors was time consuming,” she says.
The Bengaluru-based filmmaker who believes that change in the environment needs to be looked at over a period of time, did the same with her own film, meeting and consulting people of all generations of that place over five years. “Many told me that the people in my film were not very conscious of the camera. This was the result of going back to them again and again. I guess they thought of me as their friend and that’s how they got comfortable,” she feels.
Sunanda is also conscious of not taking all the glory. Working with a young team of technicians, she says it was their interest in the idea that made the film what it is. In fact, the cinematography of the film is what is largely talked about. “The cinematographer Somananda Sahi is a very sensitive person. Apart from him, Tanushree assisted the camera work. And the sound of the film is very natural and brings the whole film to life. Overall, this young team lifted the idea and made it a film.”
So far, Ningal Aranaye Kando? has been received warmly at a number of film festivals including the Mumbai International Film Festival (it picked up the Golden Conch for best documentary) and the John Abraham National Award in the same category among many others.