“Have you ever seen an adivasi begging?” asks an old woman in a scene from I cannot give you my forest, National Award-winning filmmaker couple Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl’s latest film. “That’s because we don’t need to beg for food, as long as our forests are alive,” she says. But today, many from her tribe cannot say that with the same sense of pride. And this is what the film deals with, the dependence of tribals on uncultivated forest food, which is fast depleting. While the 30-minute film is in its post-production stage, a part of it was screened in Bhubaneswar earlier this month, at a national-level seminar focusing on tribal malnutrition in India.
The film has been shot in Orissa’s Rayagada district, where 70 per cent of the population depends on forest food. “With vast swathes of forests being acquired daily in India, the tribals are not only being displaced from their homes, but it is also affecting their eating habits and nutrition,” says Debjeet Sarangi of Living Farms, an Orissa-based initiative researching on tribal food.
Sarangi met the Delhi-based couple during one of their filmmaking workshops and the idea took shape. I cannot give you my forest is the story of original dwellers who have nurtured the forests, which in turn have sustained them. Filmed in the jungles and villages inhabited by Kondh adivasis, it talks about uncultivated forest food as a gift of nature. The film, supported by Living Farms, has been produced and directed by the couple.
A folk ditty, Tinba Dumbro Puyu, plays in the backdrop, signifying the importance of forest food in tribal consciousness. The song, which translates as “Come, my pristine flower”, is also complemented by the sounds of the wind, frogs, birds and crickets. The song has lyrics that roughly translate into “We shall be cursed if we sell out our forest”.
Men and women in the film talk of forests as a their lifeline. One of them says, “We are healthy because of forest food. Those who eat processed food have many ailments. Forests are like our parents.” Another displaced man says, “We are now living on PDS rice and old-age pension. I miss my millet porridge.”
Says Bahl, “Even in their folk songs, the adivasis extol the forests that give them fruits, millets, roots and honey. Not once do they talk about forests in terms of timber, minerals or any commercial activity. The film is an effort to showcase how it’s best to leave these people alone with their forests.” Sarangi adds, “During the 1886 famine in Orissa, it is said that but for adivasis, everyone else was in food relief camps.”
The film, which will be screened at film festivals in India and abroad, has also been entered for the National Film Awards, to be announced in March. The duo’s earlier films, Cotton for my shroud (2011), Candles in the Wind (2013) and Dammed (2013) have bagged several national and international honours.
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