EXCLUSIVE: Documentaries: Musing of What Was, What Is and What Will Be

Posted on January 5, 2010 in Society, unEarthed

Saakshi Mittal:

It is not a story about a hero or a gangster thrown in with an item song. It is not a tale of love on-screen, enacted for a profession off-screen. It is not the fabrication of an imaginative mind. It is not a fairy tale from a far away land. A documentary is the truth about you; about that which is hidden from you yet surrounds you, affects you and will behold you. A documentary film discloses the unknown. This is where the real story begins.

A documentary film, broadly speaking, is a collection of visual expressions, primarily aimed at documenting the ‘reality’. Very simply put, it is ‘life as it is’, caught on camera. Not many of us have seen the beautiful side of our own country, its rich heritage and invaluable history in the documentary: “The Great Indian Story” presented by Michael Wood. The sheer beauty of the colors of India hold you spellbound and you start perceiving the country in a different light. It gives birth to a new found respect and pride for India. Another interesting film is the one presented by Dr. Robert Winston– the Human Body documentary by BBC, which takes us into a journey from birth to death using time-lapse photography, computer graphics and various state-of-the-art imaging techniques to explore every aspect, every nook and crevice of the human body in its various stages of growth, maturity and eventual decay. The first time I watched this documentary, I couldn’t believe so much was happening inside my own body!

The question is what is it in a documentary film that holds the potential of changing the basic ideals and beliefs of people and the society as a whole?

Real footage of events works in synchronization with the emotional appeal that moving objects have to produce a pronounced impact on the viewer’s mind. Showing aspects of an issue that are not known or seen previously imparts exclusivity to a documentary film. This is what clicks in all documentaries may it be a film on nature, media, science, sexuality, the paranormal, wars, human rights, history, arts, law, sports, terrorism, technology, religion, politics, education, environmental issues, etc.

But do visuals really work? Do they play a role in shaping the society in future? Do films work in making a difference? Does information change people?

In a telephonic conversation, Mike Pandey — the winner of the Green Oscar thrice and one of the most revered nature documentary makers of India shared the amount of effort that goes into making a documentary and what kind of social change it can bring about.

For years Mike spoke about the dwindling numbers of whale sharks in Indian waters, in an effort to canvass support for their protection. No international or Indian body believed him. India had never had a history of whale sharks as was the popular belief. As a conservationist and a filmmaker, Mike then made the documentary film: “Shores of Silence — Whale Sharks in India” on the plight of whale sharks because conservation was his main focus.

Three months after the release of the film, his toil was rewarded when for the first time in the history of India, a national ban was imposed and the whale shark became the first marine species protected under the Wildlife Act of 1972. Years later, this film was successful in ensuring the protection of the Whale Shark internationally, besides bagging many prestigious awards.

In another telephone conversation, Savyasaachi Jain– the eminent documentary filmmaker, of Public Service and Broadcasting Trust, recipient of numerous international and national awards such as the Common Wealth Vision Award 2002 and producer of more than 110 films gave an insight into why documentaries are the weapon of inspiring change, world over. He quipped, “I believe fact is much stranger and stronger than fiction. A documentary film is an independent view of an issue and effectively gathers public discourse to initiate the process of change. In countries like America, Canada, Germany, U.K., etc, where the Public broadcasting system is quite well developed, documentaries create a public opinion and cause mass action.”

The influence of documentaries can be gauged by the enormous leverage that the documentary ‘The Inconvenient Truth’ presented by Mr. Al Gore (ex-Vice President of USA) amassed. This film on Global Warming and rising temperatures was rubbished in the beginning. As the world started witnessing gigantic changes in the climate patterns, the film succeeded in shattering all doubts enveloping global warming and producing international initiatives to reduce the causes of global warming.

It is these documentaries that play a crucial role in flaring public debate which forms the very basis of a democracy like India. It is one thing to see the hero in a movie die and a wholly different one to see a film in which one is aware that a real person is dying. It is the latter which shakes the complacency of individuals and empowers them to be the agents of cyclopean change.

It would not be too much to say that the impact of documentary films will be large in the coming years. With this medium of communication, there will be a dawn of realization of the magnitude of our existence. The collective effort of the media in this field, will add a third dimension to the society. It will breathe a soul into our self-consumed lives. As Mike put it, “When we see, we understand, when we understand, we protect, when we protect, we love.”

Have you ever been influenced by a documentary. Drop in a comment below or mail us at [email protected], you can also tweet us at @YouthKiAwaaz.

The writer is the Delhi correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz


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Dear Sakshi
I beg to differ. Documentaries are like exciting news.
True, that they have greater appeal. And also true, that they are an instrument of change. But is change always good?
We know about the happenings in Godhra. Suppose a documentary lists the sightings. It would no doubt create a further divide in the minds of a naive viewer. I hope you understand my drift. or for yourself watch the documentary ‘the final solution’. It openly displays hindus attacking muslims and vice versa. Where does it lead to?
Same reasoning applies to examples given by you.
So I think there should rather be ‘documentary’s censor board’ kind of some body.

Having said all that and being a big documentary fan, I personally believe that most documentaries tend to be biased.




There is another way of looking (and thinking) at the example you have cited. Since Hindus blame the Muslims and Muslims blame the Hindus, such a documentary would OPEN their eyes that BOTH communities are at fault! As for the divide you are talking about, I very strongly believe that an unseen (but not unfelt) divide ALREADY exists. The tolerance level of both communities towards each other is not very commendable; moreover, discriminations mostly do not come to light because they are never DOCUMENTED.

A documentary, is an independent opinion of the maker. He/She films what he has seen. They never end with a conclusion. It is a series of events which are filmed; and the conclusion is left to the viewer. In what sense do you propose it to be biased?


Exactly sakshi! You said it…

They are biased because “He/She films what he has seen.”!…Most of the filmakers just show their side of the story. I will cite an example. There is a documentary ‘bloody waters’. It shows the flight of certain fishes being killed in nay of bengal near the sunderbans delta. As an effect of the movie the animal right workers have got Uno to include the names of those fishes and endagered and now killing them is illegal in indian waters. But the REAL story is that those fisherman belonged to local tribes who were the honey collectors from sunderbans. The govt allowed trees to be cut and as a result the bees there died. These tribes started dying of hunger. And so their last resort was fishing. Now after the documentary and the laws, these tribes are leaving their homes and going away.

“There is another way of looking (and thinking) at the example you have cited. Since Hindus blame the Muslims and Muslims blame the Hindus, such a documentary would OPEN their eyes that BOTH communities are at fault!”
Again so true! Same was my point. That people perceive things according to their intellect. And everyone is not capable enough of understanding both sides of the coin! Hence a sensor board.


Hmm. My point remains. Are you of the opinion that a censor board would have enough intellect for the purpose of showing the right side of a documentary? Then again, the view THEY think to be correct might be biased too! After all that is what happens with all censor boards!

Must every individualistic approach be subject to censorship? What about freedom of speech and expression?

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