By Dr Nilamadhab Panda
In 2006, on the front page of a national daily newspaper, I saw a frightening picture of a lone hand pump standing tall amidst the sea. It was surprising as a hand pump which was generally located in the middle of our villages which used to pump ground water is now in the sea.
The exploration of this story eventually led to a documentary – “Satavaya” which means cluster of seven villages located in east coast of India (Odisha). Upon arrival with my small team and as we were hiring a boat to get to sea, a mentally disturbed man started chasing me and said, ‘look, look see that was my home, can you take me there?’ While exploring the story the village head along with the Revenue Inspector informed us on how two villages had already gone under the sea in last decade.
That is how I followed the story for a decade, and eventually by 2018, I saw all the villages being consumed by the sea. There were a few houses which remained to keep shifting every two years around the mangrove forest due to the fast sea ingression. It was rather shocking to me that the hand pump from which we used to drink water, is the one which you see on the poster and is now consumed the sea. This film was rather a sense of my own emotional trauma of seeing village after village become a victim of the ferocious sea. I wondered what those people who lost their lives, families and livelihood went through. So, I set up a team that had no idea what we were going to shoot and arrived in this no man’s land, traversing a non-motorable road for 7 kilometers crossing two crocodile infested rivers.
For this feature film Kalira Atita (Yesterday’s Past) , the only base I had was a man who lost his home and family to the sea. We had no screenplay, no story or a script, but only an actor and the local man with his ideas and understanding of the submerged villages. Since I was familiar with the area, I took the actor through the very same trauma and followed a story for a month. What enlightened and inspired me as a director, was something that we had been hearing since childhood which were the prophetic lines from a poem composed by Achyutananda in the 16th century. The lines expounded upon the myth of ‘doomsday’, which has also been mentioned in the religious texts such as the Quran and Bible similarly.
Except the lead who is a trained actor, most of other actors were the villagers who had been shifted to the new village and arrived energetically to tell a story what they had experienced and survived. This film has been shot on real location without make up, sets or even lights.
The story of Gunu ( the character played by Pitabash Tripathy ) unfolds in a mysterious way as the film travels with his present reality blurring lines between the real and surreal. It’s my attempt by using the medium of cinema to express my concerns about climate change and its repercussions.
About Nila Madhab Panda
Padma Shri Nila Madhab Panda is a unique filmmaker who has shot limelight with his maiden feature film, I am Kalam in the year 2010 winning 34 international awards along with a national award. He based on social issues followed with Jalpari, Kaun Kitney Paani Mein, Kadvi Hawa and Halkaa.