Sarvnik Kaur speaks to India.com in an exclusive interaction about her MAMI and Sundance film festival nominated documentary Against the Tide.
Sarvnik Kaur on Against The Tide | Exclusive: Sarvnik Kaur, known for her acclaimed documentary A Ballad of Maladies based on cultural practitioners and artists in Kashmir’s militarised zone was well acclaimed. Now, the filmmaker has delved into the lives of fishermen and their relationship with the sea with her new documentary Against The Tide. Kaur delves deep into the challenges faced by the coastal community due to the industrial pollution and encroachments across the sea. The friendship of two fishermen – Ganesh and Rakesh and their difference of opinion has been documented in Against The Tide. Kaur tries to convey the universal message on how the sea and environment is as much a part of our human lives as our own family and community. As her film has been an official selection at MAMI film festival and Sundance, the filmmaker talks about the challenges of making a documentary and more in an exclusive interaction with India.com.
Q. What was the motivation behind the idea of documenting the lives of fishermen?
When I started the film I thought I was going to start a project on land rights because the Kolis in Mumbai were going to get displaced from their ancestral villages since the coastal road was going to come up. I had an assumption that the land belongs to the Kolis as they are the original people of Mumbai. But as I moved ahead with my project, I realised that Mumbai is a man-made city, and it has come to existence because of all the migrants who came together to make it what it is. So, land ownership for me then was not a very strong motivation. However, the fact remains that the people were being displaced from their ancestral villages. So, if they don’t have home, then where do they go. I did not want to make a film that is not anti-migrant. Therefore, I felt that this subject needed an in-depth understanding of what is socially, politically, and climatically happening with the community. So, my motivation was what would people do if they would lose their homes.
Q. What did you find the most interesting aspect in this story while narrating the journey of Rakesh and Ganesh?
Later, I was working with a fisherwomen’s association that was trying to raise a resistance against building a mall in their markets. They started small protests when I got involved and started making small videos for them. I met Rakesh at his home as his mother was part of the movement. He was very self-confident and had complete faith and belief in himself during our first meeting. Rakesh, unlike the modern man does not suffer from fear of not being able to survive. He knows he will survive because he has the sea and his community who will take care of him just like he takes care of them. I tried to reflect in the film the deep surrender of being I love with the sea and not being at odds with it. So, The I met Ganesh at a protest site. He was this young, dynamic Koli leader talking about the impossibility for Kolis to earn their livelihood because of encroachment, pollution and mangroves being destroyed for construction purposes. Earlier, there was a rule that would limit construction near the coast. Now it is as close to the sea as ten meters which is very alarming. Anyone who knows about the sea will know that the sea can be temperamental. You cannot know how it will behave. So, the coastal community, no matter where they are across the world, they keep their distance from the sea as far as their houses are concerned. Ganesh has a lot of love for his community. He was studying finance in Scotland and did his Masters from there. He later worked with a bank in Scotland, and he left his job and came back to India to take over his father’s boat. He couldn’t think of not being a fisherman and his idea was ‘I have to grow alongside my community’. One day at Rakesh’s house we sat together along with Ganesh. That is how I found my two characters who sit together, eat together but they do not agree on what is the way forward for the future. One who believes in his ancestral values of having enough to feed his family but does not understand the value of money. On the other hand, Ganesh encourages his friend to do well financially and go deeper into the sea to catch more fish. So, both these men had different point of views on what the future of Kolis and fishing was like, and I found it extremely interesting.
Q. Do you feel the challenges faced by fishermen also has a universal appeal as a human story?
I think the wisdom of ancestral knowledge has made me understand that everyone is connected to each other. We do not have the vision on how the way of the universe is. The sea may not be visible to a person who lives in a skyrise building. But it effects the community and our relationships. When the weather changes and with heated temperatures around the world, people are getting short tempered. Our health and well-being are dependent on the world surrounding us. If the world around us is suffering, it is related to us. The story of the Arabian sea is the story of the world. The conversations between these two men symbolises the heart and the mind. As long as there is conversation between heart and mind, there is hope.
Q. The Elephant Whisperers an Oscar. Is it the best time for documentary filmmakers since the audiences have shown more interest?
The challenges of most storytellers are drawn to medium where they are empowered and enabled to tell stories. Pursuing documentary is not easy because funding sources are not in place. You work for years with real people, and you not even know whether your film or story will go anywhere. The challenge of documentary is turning up every day with a faith that this process will lead you somewhere. In the beginning you have a vague idea. But slowly the story starts to reveal itself which means you are genuinely engaged. One thing that is common among documentary filmmakers is the curiosity about life and fellow human beings. I believe storytellers, wanderers and travelers will do what they do because they are compelled by something which is beyond the monetary gains. Distribution also remains a challenge. So, struggle of a documentary filmmaker is endless. So, I am glad that rewards are coming to Indian documentary filmmakers because the pursuit is hard.