Colombian docufilm presents Ganges in new light

The ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela described often as the "greatest show on earth" across the world has been a magnet for tourists, who travel to witness the mega gathering of humanity on the banks of the Ganges in Allahabad.

Updated: Feb 05, 2013, 15:11 PM IST

New Delhi: The ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela described often as the "greatest show on earth" across the world has been a magnet for tourists, especially from outside India, who travel to witness the mega gathering of humanity on the banks of the Ganges in Allahabad.

The amazing convergence of humanity also provide infinite opportunities for photographers and video enthusiasts who want to capture for posterity this once-in-twelve-year extraordinary spectacle.

Among that group is one from far away Colombia, who are producing a documentary, which seeks to give a comprehensive presentation of the Ganga.

"Jala: A Journey through the Senses of Water", a 110-minute film, which is now in the post production stage, talks about various stages of the Ganga - from its origin in the Himalayas till the time it merges into the Bay of Bengal and its the highly polluted condition.

"The Ganga - the most sacred river to Hindus - symbolises threats like excessive pollution produced globally and the melting of the glaciers caused by climate change, faced by all water bodies across the globe," says Roberto Restrepo, the director of the documentary.

"Paradoxically, the main threat to the Ganga is not the pollution produced in India, but pollution produced globally, and in the developed western nations in particular. Due to greenhouse effect gases produced by industrialised countries for many years, the climate is changing," says Restrepo.

Ana Milena Pineros, who researched for the documentary, echoes Restrepo.

"The Ganges is India!" she says. "The cultural wealth of India is due to the natural diversity of the country that the river traverses. At the same time, the fertility of the river basin makes it possible to feed a huge population. Despite the importance of the river for 1 out of 12 people on this planet, the river is threatened by many anthropic factors like domestic sewage, industrial disposal, solid waste, climate change and the melting of the glaciers and building of dams," she says.

Notably, the Ganga river basin is one of the most densely populated and fertile places in the world, with nearly 450 million people. It is also the largest river basin in India in terms of catchment area, constituting 26 per cent of the country`s land mass (8,61,404 sq km) and covering 11 states.

Ana, an environmental researcher with Colombia`s Humboldt Institute, says her documentary shows the complexity of environmental matters as well as the different approaches and viewpoints required in order to cope with them.

"There are many documentaries about the Ganges all dealing with humans and nature as separate entities, but our approach is different. `Jala` demonstrates that social and the ecological systems are interdependent. We found that society and culture of India are built on close and multidimensional relation with the river `Ganga maa`," she says.

Set for release this July, the documentary co-produced by
Bogota Digital Cinema and Tiempo de Cine audiovisual company, is backed by the Cinema Board of Colombia`s Culture Ministry.

Restrepo had first come to India in the year 2001 to study yoga for a year he says he "discovered environmental values" during his stint in the country.

"For people here nothing is waste and the concept of garbage is not deeply rooted in the Indian mind. It does almost not exist," he says.

"For Indians, everything has to be recycled. But in the West hiding what they consider waste is the solution to all. But they have been careless about breaking the cycles of nature, where nothing is garbage. I think that the traditional Indian approach is much more friendly to the environment than the western one."

The filmmakers environmental problems have turned global, because of their implications in multiple time-space scales and this makes India, no longer a distant country.

According to Ana, the film crew were moved by the fact that the melting of the Himalayan glaciers would bring the river Ganges to a critical situation, and even to its extinction before 2050.

"The repercussion of the crisis of the Ganges in the cultural, economic and ecological aspects led us to search deeper about the different viewpoints and arguments regarding the possible disappearance of the river" she says.

The project was a challenge for the group in terms of the conceptual approach and research. "Because of social and ecosystemic viewpoint we chose, in which humans and culture are inserted in the ecosystem, are part of it, in a holistic and inseparable way," says Ana.

"The description of the Ganga is manifold, for the river is very different from place to place. It could be clean, cold and violent in the Himalayas, or big, brown and dirty in Varanasi. I hope no more sewage is disposed in the river," says the director Restrepo.

The group from Colombia says it had a difficult but exciting time on shooting in India about a topic very sensitive and associated with religious sentiments.

"It was difficult because of the weather and the spicy food (too spicy for the Colombian taste) for most of us, because we come from a cold city up in the mountains, Bogota, where the temperature oscillates around the 16 centigrade.

"We shot for three months during the summer following the course of the Ganga, and one day the temperature came up to 53 centigrade in the Sunderbans. Besides we mostly shot in rural areas, were it was difficult to move the equipment and the people," said the director.

"The experience was very intense. All of us were very happy of discovering a new world, the world of India and, although it was not the first time for me as it was for most of the crew, discovering the natural and cultural marvels of India was a very stimulating experience for me," he said.

The documentary covered different regions, including Delhi, Haridwar, Gangotri, Rishikesh, Allahabad, Bhodgaya, Sunderbans, Shantiniketan and Gangasagar in the Bay of Bengal.