overflowing dams, compromising views


Blinded by his vision of a modern India, Jawaharlal Nehru called gigantic dams as the "temples of modern civilisation". But the cost man had to pay for these technological temples to be built and maintained was much beyond this short-sighted vision. The number of people displaced, the number of tribes thrown out of their home land, the number of indigenous cultures disappeared, the area of dense forest submerged, the number of species disappeared all remain beyond the valuation in terms of currency by the Government.

The latest from Girish Kasaravalli, National award winning film Dweepa (The Island) deals with this hot topic of present day India.

A village situated in the catchment area of a dam site is under the threat of being submerged. Villagers start moving out to nearby towns one by one until just one family remain, the family of Duggajja, his son Ganappa and daughter-in-law Nagi. Even while the dam authorities keep warning them about the consequence of staying back, they ignore them, as they never believed that the hill they stayed, believed to be sacred by the stay of Pandavas during their exile, would ever be immersed in water. But as it starts raining, the water level of the dam starts rising submerging more and more land every moment. The hill they stay turns out to be an island isolated from the mainland with just three inmates.

The young Krishna who arrives as a hope from the mainland to this isolated island but only help to evoke doubt and jealousy in Nagi's husband, while Nagi continue to love her husband unconditionally. Nagi rises to the occasion to face a miserable life boldly when Duggajja dies, Ganappa moves to inertness and Krishna leaves the island with the boat, their only mode of contact with the mainland. Even while the dam overflows, the water never reaches the level of their house and Nagi and her husband are saved from a disaster. But Ganappa refuses to award the credit of their escape to Nagi and dedicates it to his belief in God.

While Duggajja represents the old generation with no compromise about their beliefs and traditions, Ganappa represent the play-safe and inert generation of today and Nagi the emerging new woman of today, strong and determined. While their security in the deserted island is threatened by the presence of a tiger, it is Nagi's courage and determination that helps them sail through. But their ultimate escape from being drowned in the rising water comes as the overflowing of the dam, which is something beyond their control.

But, what does this climax of Dweepa suggest? Is it that nature would come to the rescue of its most unnatural creature, man? Or is it that technology would rescue him? Or even is it that the flaws, the limitations of technology would save him from a disaster? (The dam authorities again and again warn the family about the imminent submersion of the hill they stay, but it never happens, even after the dam overflows.) In reality none of these seem to occur. When bigger and bigger dams are built, the slums of the nearby towns grow larger and larger. These rural and tribal population displaced remain marginalised in urban wastelands. Also, these dams have claimed a very large part of India's dense forests. The survivalist middle class Indian population, whose voice is often considered as the voice of the Nation, never bother about such problems, as it never affect them directly. Also, these gigantic projects are still considered as symbols of development and are well utilised by the political class to convert into votes. The climax scene of Dweepa too could be considered as the reflection of the populist viewpoint that even though dams are often projected by some 'anti-development, anti-people armchair intellectuals' as great disaster, in reality these dams are not so dangerous and it can go in harmony with the nature. Isn't such optimism mere a balancing act to make the film politically correct?

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