Utpal Borpujari

December 21, 2009

Avatar sends out an important message – respect nature

By Utpal Borpujari

James Cameron’s visual opus Avatar is scorching screens – 3D or otherwise – across the world at this moment, leaving people shocked and awed about the exquisite world he has created using technologies never before used in moviemaking. Avatar is Hollywood extravaganza in the truest sense, every bit of the Rs 1,200 crore spent in creating a different world going towards visual detailing one has hardly seen earlier. What’s more, the world, for the first-ever, has a movie to thank for getting a completely new, full-fledged language, as Cameron got one developed through a specialist linguist, to be spoken by the Na’vi community, inhabitants of the imaginary planet Pandora, in which the story is set.

Indeed, the curiosity levels about the film has been unbelievably high, and this has got to do with, apart from all the above-mentioned facts, the fact that Cameron’s last film, made about a decade ago, was a certain classic called Titanic, arguably the world’s greatest Box Office hit ever.

But Avatar is an important film for the times we live in for reasons different from all this. Beyond all the technical wizadry and an epical, updated Star Wars kind of look that only Hollywood big money can bring in, Cameron has given through Avatar a film that looks at some major concerns of our planet through his story set in another planet.

Consider this. In Orissa’s famine-famous and mineral-rich Kalahandi district lies Niyamgiri Hills, home to the Kandha tribe. The tribes people worship those hills, where they believe resides their traditional gods, who protect them from all ills. The tribals have been living in perfect harmony with the nature around them.

But now they are facing a threat of being uprooted from what has been their home for eons, thanks to mining multinationals like the controversial Vedanta group who want to mine precious Bauxite that lies beneath those sacred hills. The tribal population has been agitating against this “takeover” of their sacred land, and civil society organisations and NGOs are helping spread the word about it to the outside world. The same story is being repeated in various forms in different parts of the world, with the indigenous population being uprooted, their homelands plundered and their beliefs trampled upon in the name of development. One can see it in the case of the African blood diamonds, and also in the Amazonian jungles of Latin American nations. At another level, there is this whole range of real war games that are played regularly across quite a few petro nations, sometimes in the name of imaginary weapons of mass destruction stored in imaginary secret vaults, the excuse the United States gave while invading Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein.

There have been hundreds and hundreds of powerful documentaries about these issues, but they being documentaries, are never able to catch public imagination and are always limited to a niche audience. A few movies on such issues get around the festival circuits but hardly reaches the mass audiences, two of the few notable exceptions being Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer Blood Diamond and Bill Kroyer’s animated Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest.

Cameron’s film takes up this major people-versus-development issue in the most accessible way, as human beings, after looting all the resources in their own planet living it bereft of even any vegetation, is now eyeing a highly-precious ore lying beneath the sacred land of Na’vis, which can permanently resolve the energy crisis back in planet Earth. To try and win over the natives, human scientists develop a hybrid of them, in which Na’vi bodies are driven by human consciousness through a mixing of DNAs of both races. The idea is to send those hybrids to among the natives, so that they can first learn their customs and language and become one of them, and then persuade them to relocate from their ancestral homeland. And if they don’t relocate by reason, use force against them – if necessary, even kill them – is the credo of the plundering humans.

The film basically presents its story, which by now is known in quite detail to almost everybody with the film’s worldwide release this week, in the typical good-versus-evil format, with a few ‘good’ humans finally taking the side of the natives to drive the evil beings out after an epical war of modern technology-versus-ancient bows and arrows weaponry. There may even be arguments that finally – a la typical Hollywood – it takes a few ‘good’ Americans (the human characters in the film are typical American English-speaking men and women) to save the planet, even if it is a distant one, from doom. But as it does so, it consistently underscores the need to be respectful to nature, and learn to live in harmony with nature, using its resources in a sustainable way, and without development leading to mass displacement or other such hardships to people.

The film’s exquisite and imaginary world and fantastic visual imagery makes it a product of mass appeal, and whoever watched the 3D version will get drawn inside that world created by Cameron. He quite obviously has used these devices to tell a story in a part fairytale, part fantasy, part war epic movie, but more importantly, he has used all this to tell the world that respect nature, and it will respect you. Plunder it, and it will get back at you sometime or the other.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com. www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 21-12-2009)


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