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Water in movies: Exploring the role of water in mainstream media and popular culture

Guest post by Priya Desai

Water has been treated in many ways in film - as a theme, as an issue or simply as a beautiful backdrop for a great story. From the serious to the absurd, water has featured across a breadth of movies, both in Hollywood and Bollywood.

BBC's Planet Earth series was the most expensive documentary series ever made by the BBC, with a budget of 16 million pounds. Four out of the eleven episodes in this series focussed on water - Fresh Water, Ice Worlds, Shallow Seas and Ocean Deep.

Water and a city by Swati Dandekar traces the journey of water into and out of homes in Bangalore, a bustling Indian city bursting at the seams. Along this journey, the film looks at other issues closely related to water, such as access to water for the poor, pricing and metering of water and urban India's relentless exploitation of water to meet the needs of a growing population with scarcer resources.

Erin Brockovich is a Hollywood movie about an unemployed single mother who becomes a legal assistant and stumbles on a power company knowingly and viciously polluting local water sources, to the detriment of the community's health. This film represents a very real problem in today's world, of multinational corporations and global conglomerates extracting and polluting water unsustainably.

Renukaji in Delhi's taps (Renukaji Dilli Ke Nalon Mein) is a documentary film directed by Kurush Canteenwala, about a Rs. 3500 crore dam planned across the Giri River, submerging 1630 hectares of the Renuka Valley in Himachal Pradesh. This dam was supposed to provide water to faraway Delhi, while displacing local communities that depend on the Giri river and submerging precious forest land in the process. This film looks at the cost at which urban metros in India harness water to meet their ever growing needs.

Tap

Picture courtesy Amitabh Mukherjee, submitted for the Worth of Water photography contest

Flow: For love of water is another documentary film, directed by Irena Salina that was highly acclaimed in 2008 when it was released. Flow is a  passionate and powerful film addressing water issues not just as a local problem, but as a wide-reaching inter-connected global catastrophe, the consequences of which will be experienced by one and all. Salina’s film travels across the world, from the deserts and farms of India to the slums of Africa, from river banks to cold corporate environs, trying to explore every facet of the issue.

Many new mainstream movies have been based on popular books that used water as a central theme to the story:

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a classic science fiction novel by French writer Jules Verne published in 1870. It tells the story of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus, and was made into a Hollywood movie in 1954.

Moby Dick was a novel by Herman Melville first published in 1851, widely considered to be one of the Great American Novels. It was made into a movie in 1956, in which the sole survivor of a lost whaling ship relates the tale of his captain's self-destructive obsession to hunt the white whale, Moby Dick.

Another blockbuster Hollywood movie also featuring a whale was Free Willy, in which a young boy befriends a captive orca and works tirelessly to set him free. The movie's underwater shots are breathtaking, showing the vast ocean expanse that is home to animals as big as killer whales.

In the more recent age of animated motion pictures, the hugely popular Finding Nemo was also an underwater film about a timid clownfish who sets out on a journey to bring his son home after he is captured in the Great Barrier Reef.

Life of Pi, just released last year was a great film that showed the different faces of the ocean, as Pi drifts along with his friend Richard Parker, the tiger. Sometimes violent and life-threatening, sometimes still and motionless, the film is mostly set against the fantastic backdrop of the great, wide ocean.

The Loch Ness Monster is an urban legend from Scotland that was referred to and featured in movies, literature, music, radio, television, comic books, games and even theme park rides. While evidence of this creature is mostly anecdotal, the idea of a lake monster captured popular imagination in a way very few other myths have.

Moving on to Bollywood, Mother India was released in 1957. Starring Nargis and Sunil Dutt, the film uses water as a recurring theme in the backdrop. The movie begins with a canal being completed in a village. Radha, played by Nargis is asked to inaugurate the canal as the "mother" of the village. Halfway through the film, a ferocious storm hits the area, destroying the harvest and killing the heroine's youngest child. The film shows how the vagaries of weather can affect rural life so drastically, with water playing a destructive role.

In Deepa Mehta's movie Water, the backdrop is India's most famous and revered river, the Ganges. Set in the 1930s, the film features the difficult lives of impoverished widows living in an ashram, and how one pre-adolescent widow fights against a senseless ancient Hindu custom. Water is the third and final installment of Deepa Mehta's Elements trilogy. In each movie, the element in the title is used as a metaphor and backdrop for the social issue that the movie deals with. In water, the story is set on the Ganga river, which is the heart of Hinduism. The story itself is about an ancient Hindu tradition that is still practised, in which the protagonist questions the archaic custom.

Ganga

Picture courtesy Tushar Wadhwa, submitted for the Worth of Water photography contest

Have you seen any movies that featured water in an interesting way ? Write to us in the comments section below !

This article is a part of Catch Every Dropa campaign being run by The Alternative in partnership with India Water Portal and with sponsorship from Arghyam.

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Meet the Data Project's star volunteers - Gautam Dihora and Sharada Ramadass, and learn how you can help make valuable groundwater data more accessible to the wider public

GautamSharadaAt the India Water Portal, we are blessed with some very keen and enthusiastic volunteers. At the Data Project, our volunteers have helped us extract data out of difficult formats and are also working to demystify data through their observations and analytical skills. 

Two of our star volunteers are Sharada Ramadass from Bangalore, Karnataka and Gautam Dihora from Bhavnagar, Gujarat. They have helped us in creating a new volunteer project that we need help with, from everyone. 

Central Groundwater Board (CGWB) publishes district-wise groundwater profiles for all of India, which contain useful data on groundwater availability, aquifer types, and valuable descriptions of wells. It also provides data on water quality, water levels and how much land is irrigated by groundwater. All this information is in text and in .PDF format. The data for Karnataka can be accessed from this link.

While we commend CGWB for putting this information out there for the public, there are a lot of issues with these profiles.

  • They use terminology and references that regular people do not understand, which means that they can only be read and understood by experts.
  • The valuable data points they have are presented in either paragraph formats or in maps that are hard to read and decipher.
  • The PDF format disallows any further use of the data so that people can use it to look more closely, and understand their groundwater situation.

Sharada Ramadass has worked on Bagalkote district and Gautam has worked on Bidar district profile of Karnataka. The volunteer work was split in 3
phases.

  • Phase 1 is an initial navigation through the profile. Volunteers ask questions about terminology and concepts on which they are unclear, a process which will also help us build a groundwater data glossary and FAQ. Additionally, volunteers look closely at the maps and figures in the profile.
  • Phase 2 is more in-depth. Volunteers answer extensive questions about the profile in a Google Form in order to extract usable data from text. 
  • Phase 3 is a data normalization process, in which volunteers convert PDF tables into a more user-friendly XLS format.

The work of these two volunteers can be seen on this page.

We acknowledge and appreciate their time and effort to make data more usable and also to demystify the information, so that more people can understand their groundwater situation. We look forward to working with them and others in future too.  

Now we need to continue the work so we can get the information for all of India in useable formats. If you have some time in the next few weeks, please take a moment to help make groundwater data more accessible for everyone.

If you have half an hour this week, please go to our volunteer page and get started on a profile.  This work will help us all understand the value of the water we use everyday.

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"I Love My Daughter": The story of a cook in an Indore school and an exemplary mother

 Pooja with the apple of her eye, five year old Akansha

Pooja with the apple of her eye, Akansha

‘Poverty doesn’t make me a lesser mother in any way,” says Pooja, 26, married , a mother of two, a six year old son who goes to an English medium school and five year old daughter, Akansha who studies in the same government school at Indore where Pooja works as a cook to prepare mid-day meal for the children. It’s 11 a.m in a weekday and the kitchen in the school is full of activity as lunch made of rotis, sabji and dal is being prepared by four women. The mid-day meal is a government run program where children are provided with one meal in the school. This program is a boon for the poor who send their children to these government schools through which child nutrition, their attendance in school and education are ensured. Pooja works here for a paltry sum of Rs. 1000 a month.

I met Pooja on my visit to the school where we were conducting a special training for the teachers in the school on how to impart awareness to adolescent girls on menstrual hygiene management.Nirmal Bharat Yatra has planned strategies to make inroads to community perception of water, sanitation and hygiene. We reached out to remote villages, schools and teacher community to break the ice of stigma, ignorance and misinformation. Like most parts of India Indore too has issues of water, sanitation and hygiene. I spent time walking around the campus and got talking to the four women who cook here. What struck me about Pooja was the way she introduced herself.

She addressed her daughter as ‘gudia’ which means ‘a doll’ in Hindi and is most rarely used for a daughter in a country which prefers a son. Ironically speaking it came as a blow to me as I had been doing research on the child sex ration in India for months and had come across heart wrenching accounts of how mother’s do not resist sex selective abortions justifying that they could not see the plight of their daughters later on, the ill treatment, the low status, dowry and discrimination all their lifes.The child sex ratio is the worst affected in the states of Punjab and Haryana where it stands less than 800 girls for every 1000 boys. However Pooja was certainly not one such woman. She was different. She told me, “I love my daughter a lot. I can do anything for her because I don’t know what will happen to her when she grows up and gets married. I would rather give her all the happiness while she is still with me. I believe rearing up a child is best done not with money as understood by most, but by love from a parent. Who knows if my daughter goes to a house where her husband doesn’t earn enough! In such uncertainty, my love for my daughter is all that is in my control.”

I was taken aback by the strength of this humble young woman and dazed by her goodness of spirit. From the way she smiled at the mere mention of her daughter, I knew here was one woman who was an exemplary mother.

Pooja’s husband is a laborer who stands in the market everyday early morning, at a point from where daily wage laborers are picked up for work by prospective employers. There is no certainty of getting work. On those days he doesn’t find work he returns empty handed. “We often have to go hungry on these days,” Pooja says. He manages to earn Rs 1800-2000 a month if he finds work for atleast 15 days and not less but Pooja says it’s never been like he has worked all the days in the month or earned more than this.”We are very poor,” she says, “We live in a rented house and pay Rs 1000 per month for it. Out of our meager earnings a large chunk goes to paying rent. What is left is not enough for us.”

Pooja picks up Akansha who runs out of her classroom in her lunch break. Collecting the little girl in her arms Pooja says on a serious note, “In the five years of her life ask my daughter if I have as much as slapped her once or hit her. If we only beat our daughters what should we expect the world to do to our daughters?”

Akansha is a beautiful, healthy and a happy girl. Her mother is her protection. Pooja is an exemplary mother.

Akansha in her class room in a government school in Indore (Madhya Pradesh)

Little Akansha in her classroom in Indore, Madhya Pradesh

By Urmila Chanam, Fellow, India Water Portal, Arghyam

For full coverage by India Water Portal of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, click here. 




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Voices from the Waters, International Film Festival 2012

Covered by IWP Citizen Journalist Volunteer Preeti Jolad

History has witnessed World War I and II; will there be a World War III? Indeed, if there will be, it will be 'The World War III - for Water'. Can there be a second thought to this after the call for a Karnataka bandh on Saturday, 6 October 2012, in the name of water? 

Water has always been the global commons of nature, that bring the diversities of the world together. In the beginning of civilization 'water' was a mode of transport to cross borders. For the first time 'water' was the reason for people to come together across the borders. There have been several attempts running in parallel to get the civilized world to realise the need to maintain the water cycle. One such attempt comes from "Voices from the Waters", an international film festival that ran for the 7th time in Bangalore, the only city in the world hosting the films on the rivers & streams of the universe.

The festival with an objective to screen 42 films across three days - 31 August 2012 to 2 September 2012 at Goethe-Institute/Max Mueller Bhavan, Bangalore, successfully presented 37 films.

Schedule

The host of films screened included "The Mists of Mwanenguba" in French, "Ama San" in Japanese, "Espelho D'Agua" in Portuguese, "Koch" in Turkish, "Rio Bogota" in Spanish, "We Love You" in Quechua, "Waterscope" in German, "Water is Life" in Kenyan and other films in English, Hindi and Kannada. It is evident the films screened were diverse in terms of subjects, languages, nationality etc. 

"Voices from the Waters" not only screened the films but gave away copies of journals that included details on the maker, country, language and the synopsis of 42 films. The effort is worth appreciating; all these details on the films were covered not just in English but also detailed in the regional language of the State of Karnataka, 'Kannada'. This is a feature that portrays honest efforts towards making the film festival a success; by reaching as many individuals, through every possible way.

Schedule

The next section will provide extracts from the films that will give an idea of the host of movies screened. The topics were not restricted to water/water pollution, but also touched on biodiversity, rains, forests and various other global commons of the nature.

'L'eau, La Terre Et Le Paysan' (The Water, The Land, The Farmer), a French film directed by Christian Rouaud, dealing with the controversial issue of water pollution as a result of industrial agriculture in Britanny. The film delineated the disastrous effects of fertilizers, pesticides and liquid manure used in farming.

'Tarangini', a Kannada film directed by Srinivas Kaushik, depicts the feelings of a doctor whose duty and moral responsibility is to protect the villagers from the harmful effects of poisonous chemical effluents released in the river running across the village.

'Koch' (Nomadic), a Turkish film directed by Moldoseit Mambetakunov, focusing on the nomads, their living under the modern civilization – a challenge depicted between the nomad and the civilized.

'Water – A Swiss Perspective', an English film (also in Deutsch, Francais & Espanol) published by "Presence Switzerland PRS' explains the ways in which Switzerland deals with its water resources and Switzerland’s contribution to the world with its know-how and experience.

'Trusting Rain', an English film directed by Kristin Alexander, a short documentary on Bermuda’s ancient method of water conservation. The film intended to bring out the  skills of Bermudians understanding, of capturing and conserving rainwater, since time immemorial; a skill that could effortlessly be cultivated across the globe.

'Rio Bogota', a Spanish film directed by David Thayer, tracing the journey of Colombia’s Bogota river as it is fed by domestic and industrial pollutants and effluents from as many as 9 million people and runs into the Gulf of Mexico causing untold damage. The film covers efforts of one Bogotan whose goal is to clean up the river by ending the public differences and the corruption that were a cause for the state of the river. The film portrays her efforts to fulfill her noble goal.

'We'll become oil', a silent film directed by Mihiai Grecu, depicts dry landscapes, filled with the traces of a meta-conflict, beyond visible political or ideological issue. The film covered the story of oil taking over history. 

'Now here to nowhere', a film directed by Ajith Samuel on the tributary of the Indus river, ‘Sutlej’, emerging from the serene mountain passes of Shipki La on the Indo-China border, amidst snowcapped peaks and deep valleys, transforming into an emerald green stream adorned with white pearl, halting shortly to strike the turbines of hydel workhorses before flowing into irrigation canals. The film depicts the river’s friendly and non-friendly human interface and the substantial effects thereof. 

The intention of the film festival, to create awareness on the need to conserve water was supplemented with painting and photo exhibitions, art installations and active interactions with the film directors and water scholars. 

All the films leave behind a thought in the minds of people who walk away after watching the films. "What makes an individual take the pain, to walk in the woods, in the hills, to even shoot these films. What can every individual do to make the other realise the worth of water?"

On behalf of India Water Portal and all the viewers, a heartfelt thank you to Georgekutty A.L., the Director of the Film Festival and all the associated groups for making it happen.

Rain washed our tents, but not the Great Wash Yatra: Day 1 in Wardha

3rd October 2012, Wardha, Maharashtra.

The Nirmal Bharat Yatra or the Great Wash Yatra was to officially begin from today, October 3rd 2012 here in Wardha, Maharashtra. The venue at the Helipad Ground was all set. The tents to accommodate 500 staff consisting of the Great Wash Yatra team, volunteers, vendors, security personnel, housekeeping staff and chefs who travelled from as far as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and other parts of India, had been put up. The kitchen, cafeteria, mobile toilet units and drinking water points were established perfectly by the Delhi-based event group, Choices Entertainment, who are taking a convoy of 40 trucks, 10 buses and 5 small cars, carrying the Yatra literally on 'wheels'. Development professionals, media personnel, fellows and photographers from all parts of the world had all assembled here to be a part of a phenomenal event in the history of India’s inroad to water, sanitation and hygiene. There was enthusiasm and joy among each one of us, to make a difference in whichever way we could possibly bring. This was till 4 pm on 2nd October 2012 when the skies loomed with dark rain clouds. The downpour that lasted for 2-3 hours left the entire grounds muddy, with rain water making small rivulets along the length and breadth of our occupation of the grounds. Our quarters in the tents gave way to the rain water that seeped in through small openings in the roof of the tent. The mattresses got wet, the carpets got totally submerged in rain water. All this happened while the workers were still erecting stalls and making the stage for the grand event on 3rd October.

Rain on Day 1 Rain on Day 1

Rain on Day 1 at Wardha, Maharashtra

The entire staff was moved to find shelter in hotels in the town while the volunteers were shifted to an ashram nearby. As we carried our bags and equipment to the cars that would take us to our hotel , the one thing that each one of us was thinking about was, "What will happen tomorrow? Will the Great Wash Yatra be postponed?" 

Rain

The rains that didn’t stop the entire evening and came on and off as a moderate drizzle prompted the organizers to announce the postponement of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra to 4th October 2012. As I enter the grounds this morning I see the hard work that has gone into reconstructing the entire site, which involved a lot of mud work, washing the tents and erecting them all over again. The clouds are still looming with rain and the satellite report predicts possible rain in this part in the next few days. I walk towards the many people on the ground who are behind the scenes to get their thoughts and feelings on this delay. I was happily taken aback by their message.

Sabrina, Communications and Public Relations Manager, Wash United gave me a broad smile, not reflecting any dampening of spirits at the turn of events. The grounds right behind her were wet with accumulated rain water and where the VIPs were to sit on the stage was empty and so was the ground. "The rain has washed our tents but not the Great Wash Yatra!" she smiled broadly, adding "I take this turn of events - the rain yesterday, the postponement and the time loss, as a sign from God with a message. Maybe, ironically, in all this there is a message given out to everyone in this part of the country that the Great Wash Yatra is here to propose solutions and awareness on water." She seemed all set to make this event happen inspite of the sudden change in plan, "Our enthusiasm is not deterred. Our emotions are positive. In this unpredicted event of the rains, though we did incur loss in terms of time and funds, we are focussing on the bigger gain of going ahead with an even greater resolve to make the Nirmal Bharat Yatra a success, even if it is a day later."

Sabrina, Wash United

Sabrina, Communications and PR Manager, Wash United

Yasir Ali (28), from Choices Entertainment, the event management company from Delhi is the front man you will find running up and down the grounds arranging everything. In a quick word he said, "Now that there is a delay in the programme due to the rain, I am not certain if the VIPs and the ministers who were to come to the opening function to address people will now come or not." 48 volunteers from across the country have come all the way from Delhi in three buses to Wardha and plan to go to all the five states including Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Yasir, Choices Entertainment

Yasir, Choices Entertainment

Naresh Sharma (27) is an enthusiastic volunteer from Delhi who has volunteered for mega events even before this. On the delay Naresh says, "We were prepared right from the start for any turn of events. Rain is something that cannot be predicted." The volunteers were trained on their roles and responsibilities in the Great Wash Yatra and they seem determined to carry them out no matter what comes in their way.

Naresh

Naresh, Volunteer at the Wash Yatra

Rahul (40), Head of Choices Entertainment says, "If one day sets us back due to the rain, it doesn’t matter much because we still have 60 days of the Yatra with us and the education we are going to impart through it." Rahul has other businesses too and is a busy man, but he says, "The Yatra is the best challenge we as an event company have ever risen to."

Maria Fernandes (35), a consultant from Mumbai to Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) appears disheartened on the rain situation, constant drizzles, the dark clouds hovering and the delay. "I feel very sad because the main purpose of the Yatra to create awareness and bring a change within the community is delayed now, and I am not sure if we will be able to maintain the momentum." Maria is running a lab on Menstrual Hygiene Management in the Yatra and together with her team is aiming to reach out to school adolescent girls, teachers, anganwadi workers and mid wives to discuss the sensitive topic of this aspect of women’s health.

The sun comes up from in between the dark clouds, its 2 pm already, the preparation for tomorrow’s program goes ahead on a positive foot.  The parting message came from Zelda (36), Technical officer, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Geneva, "In a way this delay is useful because its given everybody a little more time to test their ideas before we begin." I asked her if the VIPs that were to come to address the people would still be coming for the programme. She said, "Our target group is the rural community; government and VIPs are not the only people we are looking out for in this event."

Yatra partners

Yatra Partners

As I walk through the puddles of water, see the colourful tents and stalls, the beautiful stage set for tomorrow I remember Sabrina’s words as I call it a day. "The rain washed our tents, but not the Great Wash Yatra."

By Urmila Chanam, India Water Portal Fellow, Arghyam


For full India Water Portal coverage of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, click here.

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