A bitter truth

unlikely champion:In the old and blind Hedu, played by Sanjay Mishra, the director has created a sort of superhero who decides to ‘change geography’.— photos: special arrangement  

This November, as we’re gearing up for the ever-so-slight nip in the air, director Nila Madhab Panda is ready with his emotional story on climate change. Set in a village in Bundelkhand, which hasn’t seen rain in the last 15 years, Kadvi Hawa is the story of Hedu and Gunu Babu. The former is old and blind, and is living under the fear that his farmer son might commit suicide because of his inability to repay a loan. On the other hand, Gunu Babu, a loan recovery agent who hails from the coastal belt of Odisha, is going all out to recover his money so that he can move his family out of an area that is prone to cyclones. The crises make them develop a special bond when, as Panda says, “Hedu decides to change the geography”. The irony, he says, is that we have come to a stage where a blind old man has to save the world.

The film is one of the 27 features selected to be screened at the ongoing Film Bazaar Recommends section of the NFDC’s prestigious event in Goa. “Many years ago, I shot a documentary on climate change for the Discovery Channel. That was the time when nobody took the issue seriously. Today, climate change is not a remote concern. It is here and we can feel it, taste it. It is a local story, but the questions that it is raising are of global concern.”

In the old and blind Hedu, played by Sanjay Mishra, Panda has created a sort of superhero. “After the first few minutes, you will forget the disability of the witty old man who uses his buffalo as his guide and has humorous conversations with his two granddaughters when he aspires to change geography as we know it. He represents all those fathers who live in fear that their farmer son might commit suicide. But he decides to take on climate change, making him a superhero,” says Panda.

It encourages the viewer to find larger-than-life elements in the narrative.

“Of course, there will be, but not in the form of scientific fiction or magic. He will be as larger-than-life as the boy in I Am Kalam , who decides to study and follow the President of India when thousands of his age compromise with their fate.”

A mercurial actor, Mishra is known to play characters that exist between real and unreal space. “He almost became the character. Throughout the shooting, he didn’t sit under the fan,” says Panda. And with Ranvir Shorey and Tilottama Shome providing support, Panda found a team of actors who did complete justice to his vision. “It is by far my most fulfilling experience,” sums up the National Award winner.

Shot in the Chambal region, Panda says villages like the one in his film are not contributing to the carbon footprint of the world. “They don’t even have electricity. There are one or two motorcycles, but farmer suicide rates are highest in Marathwada and Bundelkhand.”

He says villagers face huge pressure to pay back loans, so much so that even a couple of crop failures can compel a farmer to take drastic measures. He underlines the fact that the poor are proving to be the biggest sufferers of climate change.

“At a time when the Paris agreement on climate change is still being debated, the film can help build a dialogue,” says the I Am Kalam director.

Although the filmmaker admits he is no scientist, no one can refute the impact of climate change on ordinary lives. “Some might say that it is one of the reasons, but it is no longer something that can be brushed aside. Nobody is denying the need for evolution and development, but we need a healthy life to enjoy its fruits. And we can buy our air purifier for Rs. 17,000 rupees, but what will the poor man do?” asks the Padma Shri awardee.

Known to find a fountain of life in subjects that appear dry, Panda says he is more interested in looking at the emotional impact of climate change instead of capturing the socio-economic impact. “For years, so-called arthouse cinema has presented the poor as bechara living a wretched life. My point is, people living in penury also have their little joys. There is beauty in poverty as well. The poor man knows that he can’t become an Ambani, but he also knows that both he and Ambani pray to the same god.”

In these digital times, Panda has gone back to celluloid and has shot the film on Super 16mm Kodak, for he believes film still is the gold standard. “I needed it for the kind of imagery and feel I wanted to create.”

Today, climate change is not a remote concern. It is here and we can feel it, taste it. It is a local story, but the questions it is raising are of global concern.

Nila Madhab PandaFilmmaker

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 1:34:48 AM |

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