Written by: Anoushka Gahilot
If one room of your house was on fire, would you be able to sleep peacefully in the other? An 85-minute documentary titled Lakir Ke Iss Taraf (On This Side of the Line), made by Shilpa Ballal, highlights some of the concerns surrounding the Sardar Sarovar Project that led to the beginning of the Narmada Bachao Andolan in 1985. It enables viewers to understand the situation through the lens of the disadvantaged villagers, who were compelled to leave their ancestral property and witness the submergence of their homes, land and cattle. The film was screened for the first time on June 30 at the National Film Archives of India in Pune.
Ballal, a postgraduate in social work, has been working in rural areas for the last 20 years. She was invited by the activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan to conduct training programmes for students of Jeevan Shalas rural schools in nine locations. This is when she had established a connection with this movement. The concept of the documentary highlights the “line” that the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam has created. She says that it has divided people into those who have selfish interests and enjoy benefits from this project and those who are suffering great losses and inconvenience and are being displaced from their homes. The filmmaker says that she is on the side of the line that stands for justice, equality, humanity and resilience.
“Initially I had no intention of making a film. I was working with the schools solely for social good. I gradually realised the need for spreading awareness of the plight of these helpless villagers. Medha Patkar has been a great source of inspiration and a role model for me throughout this journey and also a pillar of support for the adivasis,” says the filmmaker.
Ballal was a “one-woman team”, and handled the script, filming, production, narration, editing and direction. She says that her close friends provided financial assistance to make this project possible. The filmmaking began last year, and since then Ballal has been carrying out research and has visited the Narmada valley almost 10 to 11 times. “The journey has been intense, yet enriching. The long struggle over the last 35 years had so many aspects to cover; it was challenging to fit them all into a short documentary. However, I have put in my earnest effort and have been happy to be a part of this noble cause that is likely to be of importance to the affected poor,” she says