By Satyen K. Bordoloi
Some films are born with a destiny and an innate sense of timing. How else can you explain the timing of the re-release of “Avatar”. On Wednesday, the Indian government refused to give clearance to a mining project by Vedanta in Orissa citing environmental grounds. This news was celebrated across the world as this meant the protection of the Dongri-Kondh tribals and their way of life. “Avatar”, is in effect, their story, as it is the story of tribals throughout the ages.
When “Avatar” released almost a year back with its story set in the distant planet of Pandora where a giant corporation is out to get the minerals the tribals are living on by any means possible, it touched many chords globally.
Besides dazzling audiences with its magnificent 3D effects, its simple yet politically supercharged story became an emblem of the struggle of aborigines through the ages to retain their life and nature against the onslaught of ‘development’. Rarely in the history of cinema, has a film managed to endear itself to such a diverse cross section of society.
It is hence welcome that the film finds a re-release with 9 minutes of extended footage, with such an impeccable timing.
The new footage comprises scenes of cow hunting by the Naavi tribe, glow worms, footages of the school that Dr. Grace taught in and some extended fight sequences.
At close to $3 billion, “Avatar” is the highest grossing film of all time. Its market size can be gauged by the simple fact that this one film has grossed more than the entire Indian film industry, which barely makes $2 billion a year.
Yet, beyond the hype and money and effects, it is the story that endeared everyone to the film. For “Avatar” is an analogy of human history where a human race over thousands of years builds a personal bond with nature, but ideas of ‘civilization’, ‘development’ and ‘technology’ take root in another part, and these ‘modern humans’ reach out to spread the same.
They reach the ancient places that have been living in peace and quiet, call its residents savages, and kill, rape and destroy their life, and brand this annihilation ‘reformation’, ‘religion’, ‘education’ etc. This has happened in North America since the doomed day when Columbus led a pack of murderers into the continent in 1492, and over 500 years almost wiped out the entire race. This happened in South America, during the Spanish inquisition in the name of religion. In Australia with the aborigines. And, of course the cradle of ‘real’ civilization, Africa.
The British did this in India, wiping out aborigines from many of its parts. Those that survived the British, now face the same fate at the hands of MNCs. The Dongri-Kondh are just one of them.
And the Indian government’s war against the Maoists, is taking the shape of a tribal genocide and all for the same reason that “Avatar” talks about, the minerals these tribals live over.
One way to explain the impeccable timing of “Avatar” is the fact that the war between tribals who want to protect their way of life and trigger-happy men willing to shove their idea of development on them, is as old as the forests and hills they protect. It is a war that has continued for millenniums and will continue to rage forever.
Film: “Avatar (3D)”
Director: James Cameron
Actors: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephan Lang
Rating: **** 1/2