Recently, watching the documentary Supermen of Malegaon — which is the funniest, most empathetic film I’ve seen this year — I began to think about ‘small’ projects. The documentary tracks the making of a fiction film, Superman of Malegaon, an extremely low budget handycam-shot parody of Hollywood’s Superman. It was made by the same filmmaker who made Malegaon ki Sholay, putting in his own money. The actors are often workers from local textile mills.
It was clearly a difficult project. But the making of one film encouraged others in Malegaon to try their hand at filmmaking.
It was clearly a difficult project. But the making of one film encouraged others in Malegaon to try their hand at filmmaking. Films are mostly circulated on CDs, but whatever emerges is a thing of pride and hope, and also personal responsibility. And I kept wishing there was at least one theatre dedicated to screening indigenous films. Not just in Malegaon. Why should every small town not have its own film industry, its own talent, and its own system of theatrical distribution?
Of course, there is the question of demand and supply, and the question of superior/inferior quality of the work produced. I do believe that people should be free to watch whatever they want to watch, whether it is a Korean action film dubbed into Tamil, or a Bhojpuri family drama jiggling with innuendo, or expensive Hindi films made in Mumbai. But if there is no way to show their work, especially to local audiences, why will local writers and filmmakers be driven to tell local stories?
And if we do not take responsibility for local needs and problems, how are we ever going to be a fair society? So many thousands of problems arise from centralisation. There is too great a physical distance between administrators and the local population, between farmer and policy-maker and beneficiaries of the public distribution system, between people who live near rivers and people who benefit from the electricity produced by damming those rivers.
For instance, the so-called small or ‘mini’ hydel projects on rivers are supposed to be greener, in the sense that they do not fully stop the flow of the river water. But they do destroy the local ecology. Forests are depleted. People’s access to the water, and the fish, changes. For instance, villages impacted by the 200-MW Gundia Hydroelectric Power Project (GHEP), proposed in the Gundia River basin, have been protesting. Meanwhile, the Karnataka High Court has reportedly issued a stay order on 72 mini hydel projects in the Western Ghats.
Some sources suggest that the government has cleared as many as 261 small hydel projects across several Indian states, not including the north-east. Around 132 hydro projects have been planned in Arunachal Pradesh alone. Some north-eastern tribes have already suffered displacement, thanks to dams, which led to conflicts between the refugees and other communities.There have been dam-induced floods.
It is also not enough to turn to renewable energy from wind and sun. Wind farms in Andhra Pradesh have demolished forests that local communities had painstakingly grown on ‘barren’ land. Grasslands were destroyed, which in turn led to a collapse of cattle farming.
This is not to say that electricity shouldn’t be generated at all. But we do need to snap out of our national habit of looking for energy solutions too far from home. We have to find a way of generating it locally, so that if sacrifices must be made, the impact is also felt by those who benefit most.
If Mumbai and Delhi and Chandigarh want lots of electricity, local governments must find a way of getting residents to generate some. It isn’t impossible. But it does require a certain amount of will. And a certain sense of justice.