Final Thesis Film
Final Thesis Film
Final Thesis Film
Shifting Tides is my final year project. It is a documentary film about a unique breed of camel know as Kharai camels and the caretakers known as the Unt Maldhari (nomadic camel herders) in the Kutch region of Gujarat, India.
Ahmedbhai and Ismailbhai are few of the remaining Unt Maldharis who have continued their forefathers business. They are the caretakers of the Kharai camels who they have had a bond with for almost seven generations since they settled on the coast of Kutch. The Maldharis lead their camels who have to swim more than 3 km to graze in the mangroves. They now face the problem of invasion in their livelihood which they have managed to sustain till today.
Kharai camels are probably the only domesticated animal species that lives in a dual ecosystem. It survives on dry land ecosystem as well as wetland ecosystem. What makes it unique is that it is possibly the only kind of camel that swims in the sea to reach the mangroves in the gulf of Kutch. They swim for more than 3 kms at a time to reach the mangroves for grazing. Kharai camels are the only camels in the world that swim in the sea to graze on the mangroves. Spending most of their lifetime in the mangroves, Kharai camels come back on the coast to drink fresh water and head back into the sea. They follow this pattern through the year for 8 months starting from monsoon. Moving from one island to another, the camels give the mangroves time to regrow as they return when there is sufficient grazing land. The footprint left behind by the camels also helps new pods to grow into plants. Even when their number falls below 4000 and the government fails to recognise them. There is a myth on how the camels came into existence which is known in the villages. Where they believe Savla Per a Muslim saint brought the camels to life as they emerged from the sea.
Unt Maldhari (Nomadic Camel Herder)
Kutch is home to the nomadic pastoralist communities like the Jat and Rabari communities. The Jat community has migrated from the Middle East to the Indus delta region of Sindh before finally coming down to Kutch and have settled on these lands for nearly 700 years. These pastoralists are called Unt Maldharis, Unt being their Camels and Mal being their cattle. They have great regard for their animals and having herded these camels for generations the maldharis are quite knowledgeable about their herd. The traditional knowledge passed on from generations is also unique and is something that should be documented. For example, the Maldharis name each of their camels and can recognise them by looking at their footprint. The Maldharis used to supply milk to the Rajas and they also have a letter from them giving permission to graze on these lands.
Camel milk is consumed by the Maldhari and their families. The basic diet of the Maldharis consists of camel milk consumed throughout the day and for their dinners they make Bajra Rotla (millet bread) which they eat with camel milk. The source of income primarily is through the sale of male camels. But in today’s times it has become harder for them to sustain as there are very few options they have like practice agriculture, growing crops like bajra, mag, guar etc. The women mostly stay home and spend their years stitching elaborate and fancy garments. The clothes they wear have intricate art on it. Their homes are called Pakkhas built after an interval of 2-3 years. These are made from grasses called Lampdo and Ekad, which are non-palatable species of plants. They barely use any kind of plastic or modern day products. Living in these regions for centuries has helped them blend into the environment leading a minimal lifestyle. Rather than calling their lifestyle primitive, their low carbon footprint is not acknowledged.
We had a 48 hour long train journey before we reached Bhuj. Since the schedule had changed and we had reached early, it gave me a few days in hand to figure out my logistics and get my permissions done. So the night before the shoot I thought I had everything in place and I had a green light for the shoot but I didn’t realise that it was just the start. For the previous two days it had been raining in Kutch.
The first of my ten day shoot started and my permissions failed to go through for Mohadi village which meant that I couldn’t film there. Soon after that I found out the rains had flooded the roads to reach the villages near the coast in Samakhiyali in my second location. At this point I realised how difficult it was than I assumed it to be. I managed to shoot the next day where I got great shots. On the third day I managed to get permis- sion for the first location and so out of the ten days I managed to shoot for six days at both the locations. I would have liked more time to shoot but the weather wasn’t agreeing with me. Sahajeevan NGO were of great help as two NGO workers came along with us at each location to help me communicate with Maldharis. Maldharis are familiar with them so it was easier for the first interaction during my recce trip as well as earlier in the shoot. As I spoke Gujarati, it was easier for me to communicate with the Maldharis. All the three maldharis got comfortable with me and I had lots of conversations with them off the camera. But I found it difficult to capture the same on camera as they seemed very conscious on camera as the interview set up made it difficult. Admenbhai was not able to give an interview as he got very nervous and could not speak on camera. Ismailbhai and Ahmedbhai managed to give a good interview as they spoke well. I had shot couple of more interviews but as the characters didn’t fit in the story I had to exclude them. I hadn’t gone prepared with a script but I had a story in mind along which I framed the questions I wanted to ask.
Only after finishing sorting the footage, I started with the editing. Before starting the edit, I created a physical time-line where I wrote down a particular shot and the interview bits on ‘post its’. Then stuck them along the time-line to see which shot fits where and with what interview. I was trying to see if I could get a flow to the edit and build sequences. Once done with this I started working on actual edit where I was taking references from the physical time-line which I had created. Starting of with the physical time-line helped me understand the content for the film much better and the direction it was heading in. Editing is a very slow process where I was going back and fourth numerous times to see how the film will start, what will be the end of it? If it is engaging enough or not? Will the audience understand it? I must have made at least ten different rough edits before locking on one and moving forward. Even working on it so often I still feel certain things could be moved around on the time-line and see how it would change the view. Moving a sequence from the middle lets say to the beginning can affect the outcome of the
film where the audience can get a whole different meaning out of it. After editing my film, I feel in the future I should take assistance as I was getting to attached to certain shots which would not fit in the film but as I was on the shoot, I knew how difficult it was to get those shots and when they fail to make the edit. I tried exploring a lot with the editingformat and style. I tried a non-narrative edit where it was just flowing with the shots and I also tried having a very interview based film where people spoke on camera. But I went along with having voiceover with the sequences I had constructed. I was keeping my edit linear and clean, having long shots to establish the environment and set a mood for the film. The kind of lensing I had was also more towards capturing the space and the subject. I wanted the audience to experience the environment as I did. As I mentioned earlier, few documentaries that I had taken inspiration from in terms of different aspects: editing being one.
Top Picture: Rough edit on paper for getting sequence order
I have worked in both mediums: film and animation. So when I started the project, I tried to see how I could work with animation and try incorporating it with film. I wanted to see if I could add another layer to my work and try to explore a different style to my film. After numerous attempts on creating different scenes and sequences, it did not work out, I failed to make it work with the live action. There were many feedbacks I got and questions that were raised by me on why it was failing. For instance,what was the story that was coming across regardless of the animation and why do it? The other was where the cinematography looked good and the animation was matching its standards so it was suddenly dropping in the film at certain parts. I was trying different styles to see what may work which made me move out of my comfort zone. So after numerous attempts to make it work I finally decided to let go of it and concentrate on the film itself. I thought I might work on making it completely differently from the film itself as I felt it was not doing justice to the subject of the film.
Characters and backgrounds illustrated for the myth sequence. I was trying to use a different style for animation from what I was comfortable with. But the style failed to match with the live footage and after numerous attempts I had to drop the idea.
Films are something I love watching and now its make them too. I was unsure before the diploma project started whether to make a fiction film or a non-fiction film and after considering different options I decided to take Srishti films. One of the main reasons was during the previous semester, we had the opportunity to travel to Kutch. The experience we had there was just amazing, and this was the first time I worked on a documentary. The Unt Maldharis and the Kharai camels is something that I found out during this period which intrigued me. Their lifestyle and the camels were something so unique that I had to see it for myself. Making a documentary on this subject helped me take this idea forward as a diploma project. After three trips to Kutch including a recce, helped me make my idea firm. The whole process was intense and challenging and helped me learn quite a bit about the film making. I was glad that I had a space to experiment with my ideas and which helped me produce a great film at the end of it. My technical abilities also had improved drastically which helped me during the filming. I got enough time to work on my pre production and post production which helped shape the film. Editing happened to be one of the most tiring bit of the whole process. With each edit, it helped shape the film better. I understood my role as a director too, where everything was not in my control and I needed assistance at various stages. I was able to communicate what I required for the film and I got great results. Even after all this when a shoot can be planned and everything can be wiped out due to the rain and nothing in my power to control it. So these were the first time experiences for me which helped me learn quite a bit. The project is a reflection of my four years in Srishti. All my learnings helped me understand the project better. I had apply my abilities in various fields to come up with my final product.
Awards & Recognition
Commendation Award in Digital Video Production - Srishti Institute of Art Design & Technology, Bengaluru
Film Festival Screenings:
Mumbai International Film Festival 2016, Mumbai
Bengaluru International Film Festival 2016, Bengaluru
Göttingen International Ethnographic Film Festival 2016, Göttingen, Germany
International Short Film Carnival 2016, Goa