Saturday, November 7, 2015
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The film follows the Kondhs through their lives and engagements with the forest. Source: Top Quark Films

How forest dwellers relate to the environment is aptly presented in ‘I cannot give you my forest’ which comes sans any embellishes

IF YOU frequent villages, ‘Jal, jungle, zamin’ is the commonest refrain you hear. While we city dwellers are acquainted to land and water, forest often remains a distant resource for us. But in many places of the world, there are people who are one with the forests. India is home to many such tribes who treat trees and shrubs as their extended family. The film, “I cannot give you my forest’, gives a glimpse of such a tribe, the Kondhs of Odisha.

Made to the rhythm of a folk song, ‘Tinba Dumbro Puyu’ (Come, my pristine flower), which frequently plays in the background, the film starts and ends with visuals of insects, small in size yet big contributors to the whole ecosystem. The shots also underscore that forest is not owned by man. It’s a sum total of diverse lives and we need to respect that shared relation.  

As for humans, invasion of market products like potato chips is also evident in the tribal areas when mothers worry about why they need to get more nutritious forest food for the children back home. The same forest food also cushions the impact of drought years and crop failures but government measures like introduction of teak plantations and deforestation for mining, don’t take these benefits into account. The film seems to be addressing policy makers by bringing home the point that that money made from such commercial activities can fund food security schemes but won’t be able to ensure nutrition and resilience that forest offers to its people besides the unique identity.   

The film seems to be addressing policy makers by bringing home the point that that money made from such commercial activities can fund food security schemes but won’t be able to ensure nutrition and resilience that forest offers to its people besides the unique identity.   

As directors Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl explain, it’s not that tribals are threatening that they won’t give their forest but as the title suggests, it’s not feasible for them to give the forests. “They can’t think of themselves outside of forests. It’s an intrinsic part of who they are.” 

The camera also adopts the natural bearings of the people, following them in an unhurried manner, through their lives and engagements with the forest. In one of the portions, a group of women are sitting in the forest talking of what they have got for home. The whole sequence has been so intimately shot that you feel like being part of the gang instead of an intruder. The camera, the screen, everything is left behind. Another sequence of women cooking in the forest and trying out citrus fruits also lends authenticity to the film. 

The shot that remains forever etched in my heart involves two women collecting tubers in the forest and a train siren blowing at some distance. The train which is carrying away the minerals buried beneath these forests. Without any lecturing, the shot conveys a big message.

A couple of sequences, especially of two women sitting on a platform and talking about importance of forest food, take away that personal feeling. But considering how difficult it’s to achieve intimacy especially while filming in an alien tongue, they seem minor anomalies.

While introducing the Kondhs to us, the film also seems to ask who we are? Why can’t we, the city dwellers, feel the same sense of belonging to where we live and work?  May be it’s because of the way we live, insulated to nature around us by concrete, pollution and weather-control apparatus. And because of the way we consume: From the market, off the shelves, onto the burner or microwave. Not like those who dig the soft soil for roots, wash them off in a nearby stream and cook by putting together a few stones in the forest itself. 

While introducing the Kondhs to us, the film also seems to ask who we are? Why can’t we, the city dwellers, feel the same sense of belonging to where we live and work? 

That’s why we don’t care if certain alterations are made to our city’s landscape. But for Kondhs, it’s big enough to threaten their existence. Why would they give you forest then? In fact, why would you ask for their forest once you know this?

Watch the promo

This film was screened at the CMS Vatavaran Film Festival 2015

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