Director: Priya Thuvassery
Duration: 52 mins
Picture this, it is pitch dark inside a hall as you wait for the film to begin. But you aren't inside a movie hall. You are at a film festival and this is your first time attending one of those. What do you expect? What happens after you receive your tickets at the gate and enter for the screening? Do you watch the documentary, pretend to be intellectually stimulated, pick up your khaki sling bag, straighten your glasses and leave?
For everyone else who had never been to a film festival in their life, allow me to tell you.
After about 30 seconds of waiting for the documentary to begin, a film called 'Coral Woman', some music begins to play. It is quite obviously the sound of a flute. You don't have to pretend to be intellectually stimulated at this part, because the Urban Indian instinct kicks in and immediately makes you feel pleasantly surprised at the sweetness of the flute as an instrument. The music stops and the screen transitions from black to blue. You hear the sound of waves before you see them. The screen is brightly lit with the visual of brightly blue and clear water, the kind of clear and blue one sees only on Pinterest while living in Delhi. Then the film begins.
'Coral Woman', an interesting account of the life and actions of a 53-year-old woman named Uma. To say that Uma is an impressive woman would be an understatement. She is an artist, a scuba-diving instructor, and an environmental activist. Uma is basically what everyone who studies arts in school and watches Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara annually wishes to be. The camera follows Uma underwater on one of her dives. Uma leads the camera to the corals and the director says it before you can think it, "The corals are a riot of colors."
Uma elaborates on her attempts to bring attention to the threat to coral reefs by painting them. How and why Uma became an environmentalist who paints corals is the focus of the documentary.
The film is visually fascinating. Uma describes the phenomenon of being underwater by saying that being inside the water makes one feel like being inside the womb, safe and nourished. The film conveys this sentiment brilliantly, along with beautiful shots of brightly colored marine life against the sparkling blue water as the sounds transport the person in the dark to the Gulf of Mannar, where Uma is.
The documentary does not simply stick to brilliant visions of underwater life. The shots transition to glimpses of dirty streets, polluted water bodies, and dead corals. All of these reminding the audience of the core message that this documentary aims to get across.
Sitting through the screening one cannot help but come to love this woman onscreen. Uma says at one instance, "I don't know if I am a good painter but I am a happy painter." Someone sitting two rows below whispers, "Wow." as the camera pans over Uma's renditions of the corals.
The documentary directed by Priya Thavussery is inspiring, engaging, and beautifully shot. It appeals to every concerned human and more as the credits roll to thunderous and completely voluntary applause. The experience of a film festival, that of CAFF'20, is wholly positive and enriching for someone interested in stepping into the glorious and complex world of meaningful cinema. It feels like the perfect place for someone interested in films and filmmaking to start and as the first screening ends, you remain in your seat wanting more.
By Nishtha Arora