Nila Madhab Panda might not be one of the most popular names amongst contemporary filmmakers, but he definitely has one of the most interesting and singularly focused oeuvres to his credit. After having made films extensively rooted in other ground realities, like Kadvi Hawa, Kaun Kitne Paani Mein, and Halkaa, Panda here tackles the subject of climate change in his latest work Kalira Atita, which is now streaming on MUBI.
What makes Kalira Atita a standout piece of work is how Panda crafts it in a 'Man vs Nature' mode, a genre which hasn't seen too many films in our film culture. The film follows Gunu, a local villager who might or might not be mentally stable, as he returns to his village while it is being evacuated due to cyclone alerts. And after the initial sweeping and mortifying visuals of mass exodus, we soon reach a stage where it's only us and Gunu – as he refuses to go along with the others, embarking on his own journey, seeking something which remains a mystery to us for the longest part.
As we see Gunu tide ahead against all odds thrown in his way by nature, he keeps having these hallucinations of his family members, who are no longer around him. We are also given glimpses of his past when Gunu did not behave at his best with his own people when he had the chance – and we realise the film is using his character as an allegory for our general callousness towards an issue like climate change. It's a very straightforward narrative thereon in a sense of how the narrative is entirely about Gunu's entire struggle to make amends for the lost and forgotten.
What really keeps us intrigued is Panda's brilliant staging of Gunu's single-minded obsessive struggle to reach the shore and salvage the situation to whatever capacity he can. The effect is very immersive, as we follow Gunu at nearly every step he takes and with every bruise that his body takes while he struggles to find means and hold on to his limited resources. Panda is uncompromising in his execution, as he plays entirely on visuals to capture Gunu's struggle, keeping the musical interventions to a minimum.
And in what is possibly one of the most cumbersome one-man acts to come out of our cinema in recent times, Pitobash Tripathi keeps us completely invested in Gunu's struggles. As Gunu continues to negotiate with the intimidating forces of nature, the visuals only get more haunting and surreal. At times, Gunu's hallucinations of his lost family are staged like super-natural visions. Even earlier when he is seen chartering the abandoned village paths, it's an eerie visual – that of an entire village being empty, but for one human being.
What Gunu's solitary journey visuals also do is given the film a very apocalyptic feel, which perhaps is the point Panda could be trying to make. Amidst all the hallucinations, Gunu also often remembers the words of an old wise villager who kept singing in a premonitory manner about how the sea would consume it all one day. Even though what finally happens to our protagonist is tragic, it also serves as a cautionary tale for us – to not be in denial and wake up about the things that actually matter.