Srinagar: The Wular Lake in Bandipora district of Kashmir has often played second-fiddle to the more famous Dal Lake in Srinagar when it comes to popularity among tourists. However, the Wular Lake, one of Asia’s largest fresh water lakes, plays an extremely important role in the Valley’s ecology. For Jalal-ud-din Baba, a Kashmir-based documentary maker, the survival of this Lake formed the theme of his documentary ‘Saving the Saviour’, which won two awards at the sixth National Science Film Festival & Competition-2016 (NSFF), organised by Vigyan Prasar, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India held in Mumbai.
Three years ago, however, Baba stood alone, camera in hand, thinking the scale of the project he had undertaken. Money was tight, he had to do everything on his own, and he wanted to show the human side of conservation, even when such an effort is made because there are no alternatives.
So, he decided to tell the story of Billa, a 15-year-old local boy who had lost his father at the age of 9, and had been scavenging the Lake for plastic, trash and other items that could be sold at the local scrap yard. Baba explains why he picked Billa, who was then around 11 years old, for the role of the protagonist. “He was collecting trash, but that was his unique way of trying to undo the damage caused to the lake. His contribution was important, yet it was the kind of job that is rarely discussed when we talk of conservation. So, I wanted to highlight that,” says Baba.
The movie, which won the award for the best documentary film carrying a trophy, certificate and cash prize of Rs 1 lakh and the Jury award for the best film direction award carrying trophy, certificate and cash prize of twenty thousand rupee, was completed just a few days before the final submission date for the awards.
During the period that it took to complete the 42-minute documentary, Baba had to endure a number of hardships: some, he managed to fight. In order to arrange the Rs 3 lakh that it would cost him to make the documentary; he had to take loans against his LIC policies to ensure the finances. Other hardships, he could do little about. The September floods of 2014 were one such moment in time, when the documentary had to take a backseat. But for the eye of a director, this was another chance to make something that was equally powerful: so he made Shrouded Paradise, a documentary on the Kashmir floods.
But as Baba narrates, the floods were a far worse catastrophe for Billa. His village was 10 feet under water, and all the trash that he used to collect had been washed away. He had been left with nothing to do in order to support his mother and two younger sisters. “He and his family took refuge in the boat of a neighbor, who was kind enough to let them use it.
Fareeda a local lady narrated the misery to Baba. “Wular has thrown back its curses and misery on human face. This is what man has always been doing to Wular. Man is never able to face the glaring and stark reality that nature’s fury brings. We hardly learn anything from such disasters,” she said.
Baba believes that Billa and Wular are synonyms to each other and both live on the nature’s mercy. Now that the floods are over, and Wular is gasping for breath again, Billa seems to be the only one who understands his and Wular’s collective desperation and pain.
The awards, which saw ‘Saving the Saviour’ selected among 45 other submissions, have given the perfect encouragement to Baba to up the ante on saving the Wular. He is now planning to set up an NGO to ensure that Wular Lake, which is a world heritage wetland site under the Ramsar Convention charter of UNESCO, is saved from the same fate as Dal Lake.
Talking about showcasing his work, Baba said, “I will release the documentary in Kashmir as well as on Youtube in some time. Besides, it will be telecast on Rajya Ssaba TV, DD National most probably in the first week of March,” he added.
Apart from working towards setting up an NGO, Baba also received encouraging news on Tuesday. His new project, calling Pashtuns beyond the Taliban, is a documentary that will chart the history of Pashtuns who have settled in Kashmir and Pakistan and he came to know that the Films Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, had accepted his proposal. “I have done some basic research and made a trailer/promo, which deeply impressed Mike Pandey, India’s Iconic wildlife conservationist and environmentalist/filmmaker, who also inaugurated the Festival at Mumbai,” said Baba.
He is looking to complete the project by the end of this year. For the time being, though, he is happy that his efforts to save the Wular, and tell the story of Billa, have received some recognition. (Twocircles.net)
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