In the year 1947, India gained independence from the British, who left the country with a fast depleting economy. It was then left on the leaders of the nation to resurrect the country back by inching towards modernity and industrialisation. During the initial years, dams were considered the gateway to India’s dreams of modernity and advancement. Jawaharlal Nehru, in his speech at the inauguration of Bhakra Nangal Dam, had proclaimed that dams were the temples of India. A lot of times, however, the idea of ‘development’ is not global or even uniform for everyone.
Sourav Sarangi’s Char... The No-Man’s Island (2012) depicts the life of the people of Char, an island that was created in the middle of the river Ganga, after the construction of the Farakka Barrage (Murshidabad, West Bengal). The river originally acted as a border separating India from Bangladesh, but when the village of this marginalised community was deluged by heavy rains, they had no choice but to move to the no man’s land, called Char.
Shot over a span of ten years, the film documents the life of a 14-year-old boy, Rubel. Young for his age but matured by circumstances, the boy realises that it won’t be long before their home will disappear in the upcoming monsoons. Despite all, he keeps his hope alive and dreams of a day when he can travel back to India, where his real home is, and continue his studies for a better life.
The film beautifully visualises the island by using still shots of the calm river, brewing clouds over the wide stretches of green fields, and the slow and steady erosion of land.
A sharp contrast is created between the seemingly calm environment and the abject misery of its people. The film makes a subtle commentary on the widespread apathy of the governing body towards its people. Even after more than seventy years of national independence, these people, who are also citizens, are denied basic rights and amenities like education and healthcare. With no job opportunities, they risk their lives to work in the black market managing to earn enough to put a little food on their plates.
The film is relevant in many aspects as it draws our attention to the lives of the people who are at the lower rung of the economic pyramid. With the rise in global warming, increased tropical cyclones, and the recent environment bills guaranteeing more power to the industrialists, the marginalised people are the ones to get most impacted. Char presents to us a rather beautiful opportunity to think about the precarity of these lives and how our actions – directly or indirectly – lead to their misery.
Watch the trailer here.
You can watch the film on Mubi here.
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