Sunday, 14 February 2010

'Avatar': Sans The Blue Aliens?

For those who found the blue 'creatures' that flew in James Cameron's magnum opus 'Avatar' creepy, here is a simpler version. Sans the technological inputs that cost Cameron $500 million. This is a real version. Hence cheaper. Only, the reality is too stark to digest.

This simpler, 11-minute long film, is called 'Mine - Story Of A Sacred Mountain'. The analogies between the two films cannot be ignored. To begin with, both films revolve around one central topic: What would one tribe do to save their forest, their mountain, their god?

Avatar: The strange planet in question is called Pandora.
Mine: The area in question is section of Orissa, an eastern state in India.

Avatar: The inhabitants of Pandora are humanoids, called Na'vi
Mine: The inhabitants of this area on Orissa are one of the most remote tribes, called Dongria Kondh

Avatar: Eywa is the deity and guiding force of the Na'vi, which they believe, keeps the ecosystem of Pandora in perfect equilibrium
Mine: Niyam Raja is the deity and guiding force of the Dongria Kondh, which provides them with all their needs

Avatar: The floating Hallelujah mountains are sacred to the Na'vi
Mine: The Niymagiri hills are worshipped by the Dongria Kondh

Avatar: The Hallelujah mountains is the resource bed for Unobtainium, which sell for $20 million a kilo
Mine: The Niyamgiri hills is the resource bed for 70 million tonnes of Bauxite

Avatar: Resources Development Administration is the company that has bestowed upon itself the onus of mining Unobtainium
Mine: Vedanta Resources has taken upon itself the onus of blasting the Niyamgiri hills to mine the Bauxite

Avatar: The Na'vi don't need roads to the Hallelujah mountains - they have the Mountain Banshees with which they have a symbiotic relationship that transports them to the mountain.
Mine: The Dongria Kondh do not need roads built into the Niyamgiri hills, by Vedanta Resources. The hills are their home with which they have a symbiotic relationship that goes back to their ancestors.

Avatar: Jake Sully is welcomed innocently among the Na'vi
Mine: The Dongria Kondh initially welcomed the move of Vedanta Resources, as it was lured by its promises of giving them a 'better way of life'.

The indigenous people are innocent. They look upon the urban folk as their brethren - after all, aren't we all the same? Don't we all come from and go back into the same Mother Earth? Unlike the urban folk, who stare back at a stranger wondering what 'use' could that person be to him, all that the indigenous people know is outright acceptance. Yet, history has shown time and again that it is this innocence and blind faith on the urban foreign brethren that has led to the annihilation of the indigenous people. 

Avatar: Colonel Miles Quaritch says that the Na'vi would be eliminated with minimum casualties - "We'll clear them out with gas first."
Mine: Vedanta has bulldozed houses of the Dongria Kondh when they refused to move from their lands

Even the bulldozers in the two films are alike - huge yellow beasts that crash three branches and everything else that comes in its way.

Avatar: The Na'vi fight off their corporate land grabbers' large machines with 'primitive' tools of bows and arrows
Mine: The Dongria Kondh use the 'primitive' tool of axe - they chop the trees and block the road leading up to the Niyamgiri hills

Vedanta Resources, on its website, mentions that it currently operates in India, Zambia and Australia - the countries where indigenous people have been systematically eliminated for the 'development' of the few. What then, is the definition of development? Development at what cost? Development to be decided by whom? Would you let your development and thus, your life, to be decided in a corporate boardroom? Ponder: What would you do if you were to fight for your survival? Whom would then be your friend and foe?

Do we need our lives to be decided in a corporate boardroom?

Just like the way the Na'vi needed Dr Grace Augustine and eventually, Jake Sully (it is Hollywood after all - "And a hero comes along..."), to save themselves from annihilation, the Dongria Kondh need you and me and our loud voices of dissent against the atrocities committed upon them. 

The last scene in 'Mine' shows an adolescent boy, gnashing his teeth and striking down his axe in anger as he declares, "No, we won't give up our mountain." 

If Vedanta Resources continues to be the much-hated beast in Orissa, just like Tata Steel and Essar Steel are in Chhattisgarh; and if the urban folk choose to be blind to this annihilation of its indigenous brethren, then it wouldn't be surprising that few years later, this same kid with gnashing teeth will grow up with a bigger axe and sickle in hand. And he would be declared a 'Naxalite', a 'Maoist', a 'rebel', a 'threat to the nation's security'. 

Then, would there be a moment to ponder why did he choose that path of defending his basic right, through violence?