9 Dec 2018
The premiere screening of “The mountains agonized” (Ho gayi hai pir parbat si – Hindi), a documentary film on the impacts of hydropower development in the Satluj Valley made by Independent Filmmaker Subrat Kumar Sahu was held at Sambhaavnaa Institute in Palampur on the 8th of December at a film festival called ‘Cinema of Resistance’. The film shot over a period of 7 to 8 years travels from village to village in the Satluj Valley capturing visuals and resident testimonies of the already deleterious impacts of many ongoing hydropower projects on the local farm-based economies and also on their precious water sources, causing deforestation, health hazards, landslides, flash floods, leading to desperate situations for the communities and also threatening to drive them into dispossession and perpetual deprivation.
The locals, from Rampur to Hangrang Valley in Upper Kinnaur, not just narrate their experience of these dams but also speak of their attempts to protect their lives, livelihoods, and cultures. They tell endless tales of devastation as well as environmental violations and failure of the law and policy to address any of their concerns.
On why he chose the Satluj valley the film maker, Subrat Sahu, who has more than 20 years of experience in television programming, filmmaking, writing, reporting, and copy-editin states, “I was traveling in the valley with my camera for another film back in 2010 and expected pristine landscapes. What I saw instead were mountains of muck and concrete and I knew that there was a story to be heard and told”.
The Himachal Pradesh government has already laid out plans to install hundreds of hydropower projects in the state to generate 27,000 megawatts of electricity, exploiting the rivers in the state. Up until now more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity is being harnessed from the already commissioned projects. Out of the five major river basins in Himachal Pradesh, the Sutlej basin has the highest identified capacity of 13,000 MW and has been the most ravaged.
Focusing on the Sutlej basin, the film captures the devastation of people’s resources and the ecology in progress and the responses of the people to all this. Keeping the broad canvas of the ‘development debate’ in focus, the narrative is in the format of an informal travelogue: travelling through the state and learning the situation while also discovering the solutions people have to offer. This interface is extensively intercepted by images describing the economic and cultural life that the mountain folks have been leading for centuries and how an ensuing colossal disaster is slowly taking in to its grip their social, cultural, and economic security systems. The Nature, of course, speaks for itself, and pits its own arguments.
Sanjay Joshi, National Convenor of Cinema of Resistance, a traveling film festival that has been screening films of struggle of the common people, since 2006 adds, “Our objective is to work as an interactive and non-profiting agency of communication between people and cinema by representing the real issues of people as opposed to the contemporary mainstream media and cinemas”. Close to 40 participants from various parts of the country attended the three day film festival cum workshop held at Sambhaavnaa Institute for Public Policy and Politics from the 7th to 9th December.