The caves go to Cannes

Ramesh Yanthra and V. Vasantha Kumar’s documentary Gudiyam Caves: Stone Age Rock Shelters of South India takes you on a fascinating journey into the prehistoric rock shelters

March 18, 2015 06:54 pm | Updated 06:54 pm IST

A still form the documentary.

A still form the documentary.

A crescent-shaped rock shelter inside a dense reserve forest 60 kilometres from Chennai has changed the course of life of an IT professional who visited it on a leisure trip. Ramesh Yanthra was exploring the area when he saw a signboard that said Gudiyam caves: Where Palaeolithic people lived one lakh years ago . “I was fascinated. Like everyone else, I went back home and Googled Gudiyam caves.”

Disappointed at the dearth of information, he set out to create a Wikipedia page. Thus began Ramesh’s tryst with the rock shelters. They drew him — he felt he had to tell their story to the world. He, along with his friend V. Vasantha Kumar, an independent director of photography, set out to film their travels to Gudiyam Caves. Three years later, this took the form of a documentary film — Gudiyam Caves: The Stone Age Rock Shelters of South India . The film is being screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year.

The 33-minute film has remarkable aerial shots — but the best thing about it is the historical backing that Ramesh has provided. He has extensively interviewed experts from the fields of archaeology and geology, parts of which are woven into the film. “We wanted to present information from research papers and bulky history books in the visual medium,” says Ramesh. For he feels that this is the easiest way to make people to sit up and take notice.

The Gudiyam Caves, a prehistoric archaeological site that was first investigated by British geologist Robert Bruce Foote, are located near the Poondi reservoir. “They are a 4-km trek from Gudiyam village,” explains Ramesh. “Two of the caves are accessible,” he adds. He pored through historical texts and research papers at libraries and traced people such as Shanti Pappu, an authority in Tamil Nadu’s pre-history, who lent their expertise for the documentary.

Ramesh and Vasanth have personally funded the movie. “The caves are where our ancestors lived,” observes Vasanth. “Every time we left for Gudiyam from Chennai, we’d say ‘come, let’s go to our thatha-paati veedu ,” he smiles. The people who lived there once upon a time were untouched by religion, caste, race, language… “They were hunter-gatherers,” explains Ramesh.

The present condition of the caves, however, is pitiful. “Experts say visitors must tread them with care, for the rock shelters still house stone tools,” observes Ramesh. The documentary concludes with shots of bottles strewn around and the walls scribbled with graffiti. “We hope our film will help in the conservation of the caves,” says Ramesh.

Gudiyam Caves… is ready for theatrical projection and work is on to take it to the people. But the duo is hoping to get it launched by former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. “That way, we can get children to watch it,” says Ramesh, adding that they’ve already been invited by colleges in the city to screen it for students. Ramesh and Vasanth have a lot of unforgettable moments from the Gudiyam experience. “Every time we left our vehicle behind and started into the forest, a pair of dogs would follow us,” recalls Ramesh.

“At times, one would lead and the other would tail us.” Rain or shine, the dogs were there by their side. “Sometimes, when we were high up in the caves to shoot, there wouldn’t be a soul in sight and we wouldn’t even have mobile reception. But these two kept us company,” he adds. Once the filming was done and the two of them returned to the city, they realised that the dogs were there in all the footage of the caves available on the internet. He says, “These were shot at different time periods. Each time, a pair of dogs followed the filmmaker into the caves. Perhaps, they kept guard?”

For details about the documentary, visit >

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