When UN Advisor Gabo Arora, 38, spent weeks in March along the Ganga to shoot for his next film, he filled a little jar with water from the river. “The rest of the crew was like, ‘what are you doing? That water is dirty’,” he says. But for Arora, a New Yorker, it was a perfectly natural thing to do — take home some Gangajal.
That nuanced view of the traditions and sacred myths around the Ganga will help make a better film, Arora hopes, for his project is part of an ambitious United Nations campaign to help raise awareness on issues surrounding the new global goals, 17 ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ that the world adopted at a UN summit in New York last week.
“India is paramount for the Sustainable Development Goals,” says Arora, senior advisor for policy and partnerships to the UN Millennium Campaign. “And we wanted to do something to support the PM’s campaign on the Ganga clean-up.”
As interesting as the subjects for the Millennium Campaign’s films is the technology — Arora has previously made two films for the Millennium Campaign, both virtual reality documentaries. The film on the Ganga will be on the same platform, to be viewed using a head-mounted Oculus device. “Technology does help get people to care more,” Arora says.
The film on Ganga will be shot similarly, with eight or 16 camera angles. The film will either have the river telling her own story, or will be through the eyes of a boy unwilling to immerse his father’s ashes in the murky waters.
“Telling people about 98 per cent mercury or the casualties from pollution doesn’t do it any more. What changes the way people view this issue will be the stories and myths, that this water is so sacred and still so dirty,” he added.
For Arora, who studied in Delhi, shooting the film was also a personal journey. “It made me question many core beliefs we grew up with. We went to Gomukh, where the water is so pure, and to Kanpur, where we saw industrial waste and sewers opening into the river…we need to change the way we relate to the river,” he says. Arora, who has worked in the field with the UN since 2009, says the UN Millennium Campaign is in talks with the Government of India on how to use the film here.