(Directed by Anand Patwardhan & Simantini Dhuru)
‘A Narmada Diary’ is like a river- a river that flows calmly over the ups and downs of the rugged earth with no complaints and claims. It is like the Narmada of its glorious days. Whoever came to the banks went back with their eyes full of green and hearts full of calm. A river has its own language- a language that only human spirit can understand. It is the language of nature’s care. In the case of Narmada, it was the language not understood by those who cared only for their pockets and the wealth of the rich. Narmada Diary speaks the language of the heart. It immortalizes the cries of a generation, to save a culture, a lifestyle and a people. Like a poem, it moves through scenes from one government documentary to another, through the eyes of the camera, swiping through the pleas for survival and cries for gains. Village after village they walk, gaining support for the movement. They walk. Speed and technology are suggested as the sole means of development by the government documentary which endorses the Narmada Dam Project. The activists, who slowly walk the villages are able to send waves across the globe and send the World Bank away, thus proving the government’s claim a mere stunt. Though the documentary never tries to exaggerate facts, facts themselves serve as great surprises for the viewer. Government never revealed crucial facts about the indigenous people who would be displaced and never cared for, the bio-diversity that’s at stake, the ecological crisis that awaits, economical imbalance it creates, the discrimination it propagates, and the amount of money it pushes under the carpet. When the camera looks on our behalf into the conference room of Minsiter Kamal Nath and then returns to the vandalized NBA office room, the feeling aroused is the same. It is one of silent anger towards the system. It is a system which conveniently forgets the less privileged and the less influential, for the sake of the powerful who live away from danger. The beauty of this film is that it focuses on the plight of the poor and the arrogant disinterest of the rich and the influential through impartial eyes, leaving the viewers’ hearts to join sides. The documentary has created such moments where people sitting in front of their bungalows could talk endlessly on how others should make big sacrifices to develop the nation. When the camera spans over the beautiful two storied building owned by the speaker and cuts into a river side, with a tribal song in the background, the advocate of development is slapped in his face by the simplicity of the one who has no place to sleep. We lack a heart that aches for the forgotten. Our age is a doomed one if it forgets to consider the empty stomachs of a generation who were chased out of their homeland to provide us with electricity and water. Such is modernity- it necessarily lacks conscience. It is here ‘A Narmada Diary’ has relevance. It tries to re-vitalize the conscience of a dead society which drowns its unwanted elements in a hurry to go farther and further!
Sajit M. Mathews