Landscape Architecture Frontiers: Tracing a terrain. A review

TRACING A TERRAIN: conversations of people and landscape.
Landscapes tell wonderful stories, operating at the intersection of culture and nature. I became interested in Wayanad, a region in southern India, rich in bio-diversity – after reading journalist P. Sainath’s articles on the agricultural crisis there. Back in 2006, there had been a spate of farmers’ suicides in Wayanad, leaving their lives and land in perilous disarray. What began as an inquiry into the effect of this crisis on landless laborers would eventually turn into an exploration of shifting relations between people, their knowledge systems and the environment.
Click to read more…Tracing a Terrain

Framing Myth and Ecology: Studying Ecosophy through Visual Grammar in Select Documentary Films

Gaana J.
Assistant Professor
School of Business Studies and Social Sciences
Christ University
Bengaluru 560076
This paper attempts to understand the intersections of myth and ecology in the worldview of two indigenous communities as represented in two recent independent documentary films Have You Seen the Arana? (2012), by Songline Films, directed by Sunanda Bhat and Beerappa’s Angst (2015), produced by the Amrith Mahal Kaval Horata Hitarakshana Samiti. Both these documentaries chronicle the symbiotic relationship between the indigenous peoples and their ecosystems as marred by an intervention of the modern discourses of development, technology, and modern science. By looking closely at the changing relations between the people and their ecosystems as documented by both films, the paper argues that the films foreground a creation and sustenance myth as a metaphor to highlight the erosion of traditional discourses of ecology and knowledge systems to be replaced by ‘modern myths.’ Analyzing the political ecology involved in understanding the human-environment interaction, the paper studies how both films provide interesting insights into the mythological imagination in documenting the lives of indigenous people. The paper highlights the documentary’s strength in emphasizing the indigenous traditions of livelihood, resource management, and knowledge systems as stemming from a philosophy of deep ecology. The films in effect, I shall argue, create a mode of recognition of the politics of ecological discourses and practices by invoking what I term the ecosophical affect in its viewers, inspired by the Naess-Guattarian formulation of ecosophy.
Indigenous communities thrive on the sustenance of their myths that make and create their world view. This is because these myths provide a sense and direction to the community. But with an interjection of the rhetoric of development, the myths and the worldviews they ascribe to lack a correlation with the ecosystem they inhabit. It renders the myth with a decontextualized meaning vis-a-vis shifting landscapes and this is documented by the films. It also, in turn, leaves behind a new set of myths that are otherwise treated as ‘truths’ within the discourses of the nation-state, like ‘development’, ‘progress’ and ‘national importance’.

Moving away from a fact/fiction dichotomy to understand myth and, instead, locating it within the ‘narrative’ understanding of ‘myth’, the films, I shall argue, frame the counter resistance provided by the traditional myths to the nation-state’s understanding of ‘science’ as a ‘reason of the State’ (to borrow Ashis Nandy’s phrasing). By highlighting the counter-discourses to the nation-state’s argumentation of ‘development’, the films, the paper shall argue, narrate the significance of conserving ecosystems and also the cultural transmission of myths and the knowledge systems for the community. It is this process that precisely helps the community to thrive in the habitat with a symbiotic relationship between the community and the commons, that now stands disturbed. Hierarchized power systems of modern science vis-à-vis a community’s shared knowledge will function as an important trajectory that the paper pursues.

Keywords: kavals; ecology; conservation; modern science; indigenous knowledge systems.

The environment is beginning to make ground as an important area of study, increasingly for its political and sociological dimensions, rather than merely the scientific ones today. Knowing and understanding aspects of nature is a complex process. Ecology – with all its sociopolitical, economic, environmental and cultural dimensions – becoming an academically, environmentally, and culturally relevant category of debate today is to be reiterated here. That it affects policy-making and life (and vice-versa) is a point to be seriously taken notice of. A preoccupation with environmental degradation is often assumed to be a matter of concern for only those who are impacted by the same. With emerging civil society groups, public spaces and NGOs that have begun to seriously negotiate and engage with environmental issues, environmental degradation is now challenged by eco-activism that addresses pertinent problems of ecology. The documentary film is one such media that has taken notice of environmental issues and has begun addressing them with sharp critiques.
Emphasizing how documentary films function as repositories of cultural memory of a kind, this paper understands how the two contemporary documentaries – Have you seen the Arana? (henceforth, Arana) and Beerappa’s Angst – chronicle the transition of a thriving indigenous ecospace into one characterized by discourses of ‘development’ in modern scientific rhetoric. Through a sustained reading of the myths that make up the worldviews of the indigenous communities the paper throws light on how the films frame communities as being dislodged from the ecosystems. The documentaries, I argue, make up for the moment of remembering what the conservation culture was like and how these communities exhibited a ‘deep knowledge’ of the ecosystems, now rendered decontextualized within the spins of modern science.

While placing emphasis on the significance of reading and understanding myths in the sustenance of indigenous cultures, the paper explores how this idea has been framed in two contemporary documentary films Have you Seen the Arana? and Beerappa’s Angst. By looking at the erosion/erasure of the traditional myths and being replaced by ‘modern myths’ the paper highlights the documentaries’ role in reiterating the loss of traditional farming practices that were sensitive to the habitats. They also challenge notions of science, development and progress as being natural consequences of modern science as affecting the functioning of these ecosystems.
In this light, this paper closely analyses how the medium of film proves to be a potent platform to address ecological concerns. The two documentary films bring to fore several crucial trajectories that are addressed in the context if ecological discourses. By locating the community, ecology and the nation-state as a triangulated discursive space, the paper also raises some important concerns around reading ecology and the documentary form.

Objectives and Conceptual Framework
The paper seeks to understand the negotiations and interrogations drawn out of the intersection of curatorial visual documentation and the process of memorialization. The role of documentary films in throwing open questions about ecology especially in the context of the spectator is something that the paper is interested in. By reading the visual texts for their treatment of the ecological subject, the films, the paper shall argue appeals to an ecosophical affect in the spectator. The spectator, I propose, is persuaded to not remain a passive spectator of the narration but instead to recognize the degradation framed in the narrative as also possibly being their own someday. It is in the recognition of the ecological degradation as a suffering that is social, as one that can have implications to each one of us, that these documentaries mark crucial moment in engaging with ecosophy.
By locating the questions within studies on ecological discourses and cultural memory studies, the paper highlights the role played by independent documentary films in addressing the poetics and politics of ecology as well as its cinematic representation.
Therefore, the objectives of this paper are:
1) To locate the significance accorded to myths by indigenous communities especially in the context of ecological discourses and practices;
2) To understand how indigenous knowledge systems have been eroded and erased, leading to a fading of these ideas from cultural memory;
3) To problematize the function of the myth in the lives of the people of the indigenous community today, in the purview of a changing landscape and a disconnect in the narrative of the myth;
4) To see the introduction of newer kinds of ‘myths’ like that of ‘progress and development’ vis-a-vis the discourses of the nation-state;
5) To understand how the visual medium, especially the documentary film, aids in activism, awareness and more significantly in functioning as the future repository of cultural memory, and
6) To closely analyse the invocation of the ecosophical affect by embodying the spectator in the cinematic discourse of ecology and appealing to the spectator to recognize the rhetoric of crisis through a shared grammar of affect.
Let us now turn to reading both films in the context of these questions.
Arana: Myth and meaning-making for the community
Produced by Songline Films and directed by Sunanda Bhat, Have you Seen the Arana? is an independent documentary film that chronicles the changing landscape of the fragile ecosystem of Wayanad. Interspersed with three independent, yet well-connected narratives, Arana is a film that poetically nudges us to think about the doom that has befallen Wayanad and one of its many indigenous communities. Sunanda Bhat’s evocative visual treatment of the changing landscape in the fragile ecosystem of Wayanad narrates the stories of the Adiya tribe, an indigenous community in Wayanad.
The film showcases how the landscape is inextricably a part of the everydayness of the community. The views of an organic farmer, a traditional healer (incidentally a woman) and a Gulf-returned, recently-turned-cash-crop-farmer, interspersed with the narrative of the Arana or the common skink transforming into a Goddess and protecting the tribe, forms the visual-narrative line of the film. The film, no less than an intricately woven tapestry of events, opens with the filmmaker enquiring about the absence of arana in the ecosystem to a local ‘poet’ who observes that the skink no longer is seen due to the interference of fertilizers and poison in the environment. Journey – by road or on foot – functions as an important metaphor to visually capture the changing landscape of Wayanad.
The film uses the disappearance of the common skink (arana) as a metaphor to problematize the advent of modernity and its related ideals. Bhat’s film throws crucial light into the intergenerational processes of conserving and transmitting knowledge that is organic. The disappearance of the arana owing to ‘modernity’ also signals the erasure of the myth from the memories of the culture. Running parallel is the creation myth of the Adiya tribe that describes the moment of life as created by the Arana Goddess and the landscape of the indigenous community, the film highlights how the meaning of the myth is displaced considering the changed landscape inhabited by the community’s people today.
The film opens with a panoramic shot of a part of the Wayanad landscape and visually traverses the different forests and plains across various parts of Wayanad. Interestingly, the only background ‘score’ is the musicality of nature’s sounds. M. P. Kalan, one of the last tribal people who can sing the Pulapattu or the ‘song of the dead’ takes a journey with the crew to show the terrain taken by Achan and Ithi, the mythic couple created by God. The couple carry the burden of the dead and go in search of a resting place for the dead in the terrains of Wayanad and in effect also find and name places in Wayanad. The story that Kalan narrates is an important one for the tribe because it presents the creation myth of the Adiya tribe. The song chronicles different places where the couple rest, eat and pray, and finally lay the dead to rest; and this becomes the territory mapped for the tribal people. The death of any tribesperson is to take the same terrain that Ithi and Achan took in their journey that led to the founding of the tribe itself. The community treasures the land as they associate the land with their journey, which also takes the same route till death.
The arana which is the representation of a god-like figure is also associated with a myth of instant death on its bite. Interestingly, Jochi mentions a paradox in the myth: it is unclear who dies an instant death – is it the human or the Arana?” This is an interesting comment that Jochi makes because the Arana is symbolic of all that the tribe is including the flora and fauna in the landscape. This veiled response also implies that with increasing human intervention of ecology for commercial purposes, both the Arana and the symbolic value it has for the community, as well as the ecologically conscious human sensibility to recognize the importance of conservation.
With the intervention of commercial tourism that is insensitive to the fragility of the landscape, the tribal members lament the loss of the ecosystem. References to their lakes no longer able to sustain fish, or their rivers filled with plastic makes the extent of damage more apparent. Representing environmental concerns always carries the narrative of crisis most often confirmed by extended images of destruction.
However, the film maker interestingly does not visually represent this damage in film. The ‘crisis’ in Arana is never dramatically presented. Instead the film lets the subjects speak about the extent of degradation themselves with a tone of its fatality looming large.
Environmental resource management is to be understood in terms of what Madhav Gadgil (1985) terms ‘ecological prudence’ (1). What is interesting is how Kalan mentions the forests and terrains are not what they are like in the song sung believed to be sung by Ithi and Achan. The sudden spurt of Teak plantations, in the terrains that the mythic couple traversed is testimony to this fact. A mismanagement of the resources in the hands of forest officers over several decades has transformed the terrain into a new place. Similarly, until the Forest Protection group began to work towards the conservation of the forest and laws were passed making it illegal to utilize resources of the forests without permission, the State had made no such provisions to conserve the resources of the ecosystem. Jochi mentions how the forests were abundant with all kinds of fruits and medicinal plants that were rooted out even before they could bear fruit leaving nothing. The implication of a rich traditions of such ecological prudence that were prevalent among the indigenous societies to regulate resource utilization is emphasized through these documentaries.
Documentaries as cultural memory
The concept of cultural memory was introduced by Jan Assmann in his seminal work in this field titled Cultural memory and Early Civilization: Writing Remembrance and Political Imagination. He talks of cultural memory as having three intersectional points: memory and reference to the past, identity, and cultural continuity (2). A culture’s transmission of its memory and collective knowledge from one generation to the next is qualified by what Assmann calls ‘memory culture’. Media and memory have increasingly become intermediaries between individual and society. Representation in media helps bring together past with the present. Zooming in to some aspects of the memory and zooming out (as cinematic as well as narrative techniques) helps formulate and disseminate certain aspects of the memory. By invoking an audio-visual narrative of shared cultural memory, the documentary films emphasize the need to turn our attention to the changing ecological landscapes and the subsequent changes in the life of the people around. Assmann argues that cultural memory functions as a binding principle by helping members of a community come together.
In this regard, M. P. Kalan remarks, with a sense of lament in his tone, “We may forget our way of life, as we move on. A film will help us preserve our memories.”
Indigenous knowledge is based on a prolonged interaction that will often help understand the problems of the environment better. Jennifer A. Machiorlatti in “Ecocinema, Ecojustice, and Indigenous Worldviews: Native and First Nations Media as Cultural Recovery” remarks: “Many traditional oral narratives of indigenous people are a direct reflection of their worldview that all creation is interconnected, with vast cyclical fluctuations and expressions of life, relationship, transformation, and renewal” (62). Oral traditions serve as repositories of cultural memory. Arana functions as a cinematic process of remembering the evolutionary and generative community and their ways of living.
A tribalwoman who accompanies Jochi on her visits into the deep forests explains: “She has the wisdom of old times”. Jochi further clarifies how she learnt about all the medicinal plants as knowledge passed on by her forefathers and that she thinks it is imperative that the next generation knows about it too.
In ecocriticism, the environment is not just the physical environment and the human interaction with the environment. It includes the negotiations made in the cultural realm to understand this physical environment. It is here that the location of the medium to understand the environmental concerns becomes apparent. Documentaries with their cinematic grammar also make reception of ecology through cinema significant. They appeal to the ‘shared’ narrative of affect, aesthetic and humanity.
What makes Arana an important moment, perhaps, in ecocinema is the fact that it turns focus on a community rendered subaltern by interventions of mainstream society. The voices in the film are predominantly the people’s themselves. We see no experts sharing their knowledge on the subject. This kind of ethnofilmography is an interesting take on understanding knowledge systems of indigenous communities. Within discourses of modern science, these are people often considered as the ‘non-experts’. By giving voice completely to the tribal people themselves, with the filmmaker rarely makes an intervention into the narrative. In fact the filmmaker never brings in her voice when the voice of the tribals are heard. It is only when she talks to subjects outside the field of her direct framing – like the resort owner, that we hear her voice.
The film is devoid of any overt expression of emotions. The subjects treat their emotions in a very controlled manner. Even reference to farmer suicides is treated with a sense of sarcasm and mockery.
Beerappa’s Angst: An Apology for the Polemics of Ecological Encounters
This documentary chronicles the loss of large tracts of kavals or common pastures for the shepherding community of the Challakere taluk in Chitradurga District in Karnataka. From being termed a ‘wasteland’ to being accorded the ‘Science City’ status, Challakere and the Amrith Mahal Kaval, home to the indigenous breed of the Amrith Mahal cattle, is now rendered inaccessible to the cattle herders. Primarily sheep-rearing and cattle herding communities, the people depended on a symbiotic relationship established between themselves and the ecosystem.
The film highlights the ironic situation where despite the directive of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and a report by the Parliamentary Board recommending the protection of these habitats, Challakere has seen a steady build up and transformation to a ‘Science City’ with a huge military-industrial complex being built. What was once a vast tract of land with several lakhs of acres that have been protected ever since the time of the Vijayanagara empire’s reign, have been reduced to a few 15000 acres thanks to a corrupt IAS officer who colluded with the State to divert lands for this industrial facility and a nuclear complex.
A high compound wall and guards at the entrance of large tracts of the kavals earmarked for the construction of a huge industrial military complex with a thermonuclear facility ensures the local pastoralists have no longer any access to the commons that belong to the community. The documentary is a potent reflection on the role played by normative discourses of modern science in understanding ‘development’. This film also uses the myth of Beerappa closely to impress upon the role played by myths in the lives of the pastoralists.
The film opens with a folk song that praises Lord Beerappa and his role in the sustenance of the community and their ecosystem. That everything in Kaval is because of the Lord Beerappa and for the Lord himself, and that kaval provides for everything is a point that reiterates the sustenance discourse that is central to the community’s living. However, a little into the film one realises the irony of the folk song, for, the community has been prevented accessing their commons by the State’s intervention. The members from the Golla and Kuruba community begin by reminiscing how the Kavals were a rich treasure trove of food and medicinal requirements. They reiterate that if the Lord had created the Kaval, he had also created the solutions for their problems, physical or otherwise, within the kaval itself.
A group of aged womenfolk begin describing how the Kaval took care of all their needs by providing traditional folk healing methods, which made it imperative for the community to protect the grasslands. Their main source of food were the highly nutritious tubers and greens that were found aplenty. The grasslands are also home to several nomadic communities that depend on the resources of the grasslands for the food and shelter.
Incidentally, these grasslands have often been termed as wastelands as they are ‘economically unviable.’ On the contrary the documentary highlights several government reports that have emphasized the need to conserve the kavals for their rich biodiversity. Bhargavi Rao of the NGO Environment Support Group, which was instrumental in garnering attention to highlight the growing environmental concerns of this eco-sensitive area, claims in the film how the grasslands were home to the last cheetahs that roamed freely in these habitats that were perfect for them. The last few remaining Great Indian Bustard, Black Bucks and the Lesser Florican are home to this habitat. The Amruth Mahal cattle themselves are known to be drought resistant (Challakere is a semi-arid area with low rainfall, and the Vani Vilas Dam built during the reign of one of the Mysore Maharajas has never in history been full ever), disease resistant and their milk is said to contain several healing properties, all due to the kind of grass they feed on. The people and the species have adapted themselves to the ecosystem such that even the community’s occupations often suit the environment and its resources. Not conserving these grasslands is only going to lead to the extinction of these species.
What is interesting about Beerappa’s Angst is unlike the myth itself taking an equal share in the narrative of Arana, the myth of Beerappa is subtly superseded by a newer kind of myth that pervades contemporary discousrses of progress and development. By highlighting how the State validates discourses of science as being synonymous with progress, even without considering the location and execution of massive science projects that are hazardous to both humans and the environment, the film functions as a harsh critique of the unchallenged discourse of ‘national importance’.
Leo Saldanha, of the ESG observes how it is extremely dangerous to house a drone-building facility, a nuclear facility and a synchrotron, all by public institutions like DRDO-ISRO, BARC, and IISc which are premier scientific research institutes of the country. He clearly ascertains the dangers of housing a nuclear facility in the same space as that of a drone-building facility, which is against the norms of setting up either of these facilities next to each other. What this emphasizes is how the State aims to foster national importance without even putting the subjects of the nation before such discourses: highlighting a report about the drone facility, Saldanha alerts us to how the drones are being built to contain any insurgency within the nation. The State’s use of such facilities against internal dissent on the one hand, and the possible danger of a drone hitting the nuclear reactor facility on the other both show the irony of the myth of ‘national importance’.

Modern Science and Modern Myths
Raymond Bryant argues about the role of colonial intervention in the ecological degradation. The introduction of modern agriculture and scientific forestry is a good point to elucidate this intervention. Bryant observes: “This German system of forest management was introduced first in British-ruled Burma and India and Dutch-ruled Java before being exported to other colonial territories in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries…. The main purpose of scientific forestry was the promotion of long-term commercial timber production, especially key species such as deodar and teak, central to the imperial economies .” This aspect is clearly mentioned in Beerappa’s Angst where the grasslands were seen not as lucrative spaces for timber production and hence their conservation was not seen as being significant.
Ashis Nandy observes how even during the colonial days, however, science was used as an instrument and not an end (2). However, he argues:
“The nature of science has since then changed, and so has the nature of human violence. . . . These changes can be understood with a reference to the mediatory role played by the modern nation-state, the invitation which the culture of modern science extends to state power to use scientific knowledge outside the reaches of the democratic process and, above all, the growth of institutionalized violence…” (2).
He continues to observe how science has become the new reason of state. “The state and its various arms can kill, maim or exploit in the name of science. Science in turn, as a raison d’etat, can inflict violence in the name of national security or development and . . . increasingly under its own flag for its own sake“. (10). The gravity of this observation cannot be missed when we look at the problems framed within Beerappa’s Angst and the ‘modern myths’ that the State seeks to validate as natural discourses.
Both films function as important voices in asserting the erasure of a community’s organic way of life and being replaced by newer ones. While neither disregard the newer/ modern modes of enquiry, both mourn the loss of a certain organic outlook towards community and livelihood.

Visual Grammar and Ecosophical Affective Turn
Let us know turn to the role played by documentary fims in addressing ecological concerns. The role of critical art in raising concerns over ecoaesthetics and ethico-aesthetic questions around ecology are becoming more pertinent today. Non-state actors like independent organizations and filmmakers contribute in this area.
Mass media has played a crucial role in creating awareness about environmental issues. By rendering it in a certain visual grammar, it has also made the problems apparent, quite literally. Luis Vivanco argues: “We can be told that rain forests are disappearing at alarming rates, but the often-cited statistics are not as compelling until one has actually seen the destruction.” (1195). He further argues that environmental films provide a ‘privileged site’ to consider the various elements and problems of nature as being visualized at the “crossroads of science, popular education, art, and business.” (1195). The visual genre encourages us to ask questions about the various ways that natural processes are represented in film. Cronon (1992) remarks that documentary films are “stories about stories about nature”. These narratives extrapolate the centrality of locating questions about the ecosystem within capitalist, political and ethical dialogues.
I argue here that media representations, especially documentary films play a crucial role in constructing what James Dawes (1998) calls a ‘narrative society’. (35). According to Dawes, a narrative society is one “where risk and even compassion are conceived of through stories than through statistics, a society that perceives itself not merely through narrative but as narrative.” Documentary films therefore contribute in creating a narrative society that foregrounds several competing discourses. Independent documentaries carry the role of citizen action in conservation practices.
Nature films on television etc are associated with a sense of commercial success, which are absent from the documentaries like the one this paper is concerned with. While many wildlife and natural history films look at themes like survival of the fittest with evocative music and dramatic storyline. Both films open with a folk song of the community rather than recreated music in the studio.
Both documentaries do not have mediated narration giving voice to the ones whose matters. Beerappa’s Angst provides space for the voice of experts within the visual space of the narrative to create mechanisms of drawing attention to the claims and concerns about ecology. These experts, however, are not directly impacted by the damage to the habitat, yet choose to embody themselves as subjects affected by the discourse. Arana, on the other hand, does not include the ‘outsiders’ perspective give within the narrative. The whole narrative takes shape in and through the voice of the members of the indigenous community. However, these voices are not just captured within the semiotic space of the visual frame but it moves to implicitly address the spectator too.
Arne Naess’ and Felix Guattari’s approach to political and deep ecology is of some use here for discussion. Introduced by Arne Naess and independently developed by Felix Guattari, ‘ecosophy’ is the integration of the natural world with philosophy. Encouraging an ecological wisdom, the line of thought stresses on the need to understand the interlinked existence of nature, humans, and culture. Calling attention to the political, natural and cultural dimensions of ecological concerns, the paradigm functions as a means to overrule the nature/culture dichotomy as well as dethrone anthropocentric views of nature.
Guattari advocates a ‘transversal’ approach that locates thought about ecologies along ‘subjective, social and environmental registers’ (2) is a useful one to engage with the ethical and political questions of communities rather than a mere anthropological understanding of indigenous community and their culture. In Guattari’s claim that nature can no longer be separated from culture and seen as a dualism of sorts, he emphasizes the role played by mediated communications in furthering ecosophy . In Guattari’s opinion, environment is not to be associated merely with a small minority of the population that speakers for the conservation of the environment. It must be everybody’s concern. Political ecology as a domain constructs a crisis narrative that will also help facilitate the control of people and their environments by powerful actors (Bryant 87).
It is useful to comment on the role of the public sphere here. Charles Taylor (2004) configures the public as a social imaginary. He says:
“By social imaginary, I mean something much broader and deeper than intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking, rather, of the ways in which people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with other, how things go between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations” (23).

It is in forging a social imaginary that urges spectators to recognize a shared existence of concepts as represented through the visual grammar of the films thus creating a new subjectivity for the spectator: one of an ecosophical affective subject. This transforms the role of the spectator into an action-oriented performative. Thus in creating an affective narrative on screen, the films I argue create a space which contests the imperative discourses of development and in turn, reconfigures the spectator’s (and in effect, the public sphere) as a social imaginary. This also converts the visual text into an allotropic text functioning as a social document, an ethnographic narrative and also reconstituting the social imaginary of the public sphere. It is this movement from merely being a genre to a culture of production and reception of such narratives that these documentaries become crucial moments.
Naess encourages the human self to move away from an ego-driven self to one that is an expanded ecological self through an identification of non-human entities and natural processes. The films highlight how indigenous communities have been expressing this philosophy in their organic ways of living. By embodying the spectator within the filmic narrative as people who must respond, too, to the identification that is not limited to merely one’s body alone, but beyond. It is through an appeal to one’s ecosophical affect that the films are able to create a moment of recognition of the degradation as social. It is precisely the visual grammar of framing ecological degradation both as poetics and as polemics that this ecosophical affective turn is achieved in the spectator.

Beerappa’s Angst is more polemic in its content as far as environmental issues are concerned. It also highlights the direct role played by civil society in conservation activism. Unlike Beerappa’s Angst that also includes the non-governmental voices as the voice of the experts to support the claims made the members of the community itself, Arana gives voice predominantly to the members of the community themselves. Another significant difference between the two films is also how it represents the emotions of the members of the community. While Arana shows its subjects as expressing their laments and pains in a more controlled, and in some cases, also in a jocund sensibility so as to give an idea of having accepted the finality of their loss of both finances and aspects of their culture, Beerappa’s Angst showcases how the members also act on the situation by seeking political action. As hinted by the title, motions run high and dry here with despair, loss, and anger clearly taking centre stage as far as the sentiments of the subjects are concerned.
Arana is a fascinating film that frames the journey through the lush forests and plantations in Wayanad. Journey as a trope, as mentioned earlier, run throughout the film as it seeks to capture the lush green fields, rich earthiness of harvested plantations, and a community that makes sense of the everyday in and through these spaces. functions. Its tribute to the life and worldviews of the Adiya people and the framing of the changing landscape makes the politics of knowledge systems rather implicit and hidden in between the frames and the muted utterances of overpowering emotions. While deep ecology takes centre-stage in both films, both films when seen together weave the political with poetics. Both visual texts frame resistance very differently to highlight the ecological violence mitigated through institutionalised discourses. The ecosophical engagement and the embodiment of the spectator through an ecosophical affective turn encourages us to reimagine the public sphere and the performative role of the spectator to interrogate and challenge several assumptions about the ecology in general and framing ecology in particular.
Both films highlight larger social function performed by documentaries in proliferating the message of sustainability and as academic and civil society’s intervention as enabling the creation of what I have argued is a shared grammar of ‘ecosophical affect’ that makes each of us conscious the questions we must ask, interrogations that we must seek and the challenges that we must meet. In functioning as a repository of cultural memory of the subaltern voices in fragile ecosystems, they alert us to the voices that muffle others with their loudness; those that are muted and those that echo even today, heard to those who lend an ecologically conscious ear.

Works Cited
Assmann, Jan. Cultural Memory and early Civilization: Writing Remembrance and Political Imagination. Cambridge UP, 2011.
“Beerappa’s Angst.” Youtube, uploaded by Amruth Mahal Kaval, 29 August 2015
Bryant, Raymond. “Power, Knowledge and Political Ecology in the Third World: A Review.” Progress in Physical Geography, vol. 22, no. 1, 1998, pp 79-84.
Chatterjee, Shoma A. Filming Reality: The Independent Documentary Movement in India. Sage, 2015.
Cronon, William. “A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative.” Journal of American History. Vol. 78, no. 4, 1992, 1347 – 1376.
Dawes, James. “Narrating Disease: Aids, Consent, and the Ethics of Representation.” Social Text, vol. 43, pp 27- 44.
Gadgil, Madhav. “Towards an Ecological History of India.” EPW, vol. XX, no. 45, 46 and 47, Nov. 1985, pp 1909-1918.
Guattari, Felix. The Three Ecologies. Trans. Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton. Continuum, 2008.
Have You Seen the Arana?. Directed by Sunanda Bhat, performances by M P Kalan, Jochi, and George, Songline Films, 2012.
Jayasankar K. P., and Anjali Monteiro. A Fly in the Curry: Independent Documentary Film in India. Sage, 2016
Machiorlatti, Jennifer A. “Ecocinema, Ecojustice, and Indigenous Worldviews: Native and First Nations Media as Cultural Recovery.” In Framing the World: Explorations in Ecocriticism and Film. pp 62-80, University Press of Virginia, 2010.
Nandy, Ashis. Science, hegemony and Violence: A Requiem for Modernity. OUP, 1989.
Vivanco, Luis. “Seeing Green: Knowing and Saving the Environment on Film.” American Anthropologist, vol. 104, no. 4, pp. 1195 – 1204

Golden Conch for Best Doc at the Mumbai Int Film Festival 2014.


‘Have you seen the arana?’ wins the Golden Conch for Best Documentary in the National Competition at MIFF 2014. The award citation: “This film is elegant, patient, meditative, and subtle. The director gently moves her audience towards a deep appreciation of the tribal, mythical connections between humanity and the ecosystems that sustain us all.” The award was shared with ‘Invoking Justice’ by Deepa Dhanraj.

The film also won Best Cinematography Award given to Saumyananda Sahi and Best Sound to Christopher Burchell.


Best Ecodoc Award at the TinNai Eco Film Festival


“Have you seen the arana?” wins the Best Ecodocumentary Award at the TiNai Eco Film Festival, 2014, held in Goa last week.

Award citation: “A beautiful film, with an excellent narrative arc makes a compelling statement on the wisdom of indigenous communities in the context of India’s widespread agrarian crisis.”

Official Selection “Days of Ethnographic Film” Slovania


Have you seen the Arana? has been selected for “Days of Ethnographic Film” to be held between the 10th and 14th March 2014 in Slovania. The selection committee selected 53 films more than 180 submissions from around the world.

“Have you seen the arana?” in Top 10 Indian Docs of 2013.


Top 10 Indian Documentaries of 2013 – Dear

2013 proved to be yet another exciting year for Indian documentaries: they screened at numerous international film festivals and took home awards. In a small but significant step, a few of them even found their way into theatres in India. Though the domestic funding and distribution scenario still remains gloomy, there?s much to rejoice in the international acclaim that these documentaries have found in the last year.

We have compiled a list of the 10 most successful documentaries of 2013, taking into account factors such as film festivals, awards, popularity, reviews and distribution. Read more…

Arana is the official selection at MIFF 2014


“Have you seen the arana?” has been selected in the National Competition Section of the 13th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) 2014.

Screening at Madurai Film Festival 09 Dec 2013. 5 pm. Prem Nivas Hotel


‘Have you seen the arana?’ will show at the 15th Madurai International Film Festival on Monday 9th December at 5 pm. The director will be present for the Q & A.

Mark Haslam Award at Canada’s largest environmental film festival.


HAVE YOU SEEN ARANA? has won the 2013 Mark Haslam Award at Planet in Focus, Canada’s largest Environmental Film Festival.

The Mark Haslam Award is bestowed to a drama, documentary or experimental film the gives voice to individuals, communities, struggles or stories that are under-represented in media and is made by a filmmaker who is a member or participant of that particular community, struggle or story. The film represents the power to inspire reflection and positive action towards the social and ecological health of the planet.

‘Have you seen the arana?’ will show at the Planet in Focus Festival, Toronto.


Sunanda Bhat’s award winning documentary on the environment will show at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 1, 350 King Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 3X on Sunday, Nov 24 2013 – 4:25 pm.
For more info visit