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Tamil Nadu Drought: A Look At Films That Depict Water Scarcity

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Tamil Nadu is crippling under a severe water crisis with lakes and taps running dry for weeks, and schools and offices closing down. Some calculations say that Chennai city alone has gone nearly 200 days without rain. People are coming down heavily on the government for taking no steps to resolve the crisis and leaving hopes on the monsoon. This state is seeing its worst drought in 30 years.

Incidentally, Tamil films, as old as Thaneer Thaneer (1981), gave us a grim warning of the state that water scarcity could leave us in, and the need for proactive measures to tackle it.

Directed by K Balachander, the film starring Saritha, Guhan and Radha Ravi, was based on a Tamil play by Komal Swaminathan. It looked at the drought-hit village of Athipatti’s desperate attempts to tackle water crisis and the government and politicians’ apathy towards their lives.

In this scene, a school teacher of the village tries to teach his students a Tamil proverb about washing clothes before wearing them, and one of his student promptly points out that the proverb makes no sense because their village hasn’t seen water in ten years. The teacher quickly moves on to a history lesson, saying, “Repeat after me, India is an independent nation.”

In Aramm, Nayanthara played a district collector on a mission to rescue a child stuck in a borewell. The film was set in a drought-hit place. Director Gopi Nainar used Nayanthara’s star vehicle to drive home a message criticising the government and power hungry politicians in a place whose people were used to the system working against them.

Gopi reportedly narrated the film to many producers but they showed disinterest before Kotapadi J Rajesh agreed. This was also one of Nayanthara’s few movies which she actively promoted.

Director AR Murugadoss-Vijay’s Kaththi centered on the issue of farmers committing suicide due to corporate encroachment. Jeeva, one of the two characters played by Vijay, was from a dry village in Tirunelveli, and a graduate in hydrology who discovered that there was so much untapped groundwater under lands in the village that they can supply water to not just Thirunelveli but the surrounding Thoothukudi district as well. However, an MNC owner cheats the villagers into giving their lands for construction of a factory, and Vijay and the villagers fight for their rightful land and resources.

In this scene from Karmegham (2002), the people of another arid village, led by Mammootty, are driven to the edge as they silently protest in front of the collector’s office for water. When ways to disrupt their protests don’t work, the officer tells them that the system is flawed and it’s more practical to sort out fights with the head of their neighbouring village instead so they can share water. Mammootty’s speech which follows this settles age-old conflicts.

In a similar scene from Desiya Geetham, Vijayakumar, Murali and others try and settle talks with their neighbours for water in their village but realise their neighbours don’t have much water themselves. Murali insists on protesting to correct the political system, and in the next scene villagers barge into the MLA’s house with their empty pots. The film, about the poor politicians in power, was directed by Cheran. It was controversial during release, but opened to good reviews.

The people of Solaiyur in the film Lingaa faced dire issues because of lack of water for nine months every year, and three months of heavy rainfall and floods. There was political opposition to find ways to store water and it resulted in famine and hundreds of deaths every year. The authority and collector’s efforts to construct a dam were futile. Rajinikanth, with his money and power rises to the occasion and decides to build the dam.

With inputs from Karthikeyan A 

Image courtesy: Zee News

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