Coral Woman At The International Kids Film Festival Is A Persuasive Environmental Documentary That Balances Beauty With Alarm, Film Companion

Director: Priya Thuvassery
Producer and Commissioning Editor: Rajiv Mehrotra 

Uma Mani, an artist, saw a documentary on the gradual desecration of corals and was moved to seek out this underwater graveyard at the age of 49. Today, she is a scuba diver, and the eponymous documentary Coral Woman begins with her voiceover, as her body cuts through the clear blue waters, rocking around like a ‘thaal-attam’, a lullaby, amidst the riot of colours and shapes. 

But then, twenty minutes later, when she is shown diving into the water again, on the Gulf of Mannar off the coast of Tamil Nadu, the water is cloudy, the corals are bleached and the fish are not nearly as plentiful. Something is rotten, and Priya Thuvassery weaves in this abjection with the roiling politics of the time- the killing of 13 protestors fighting against the Sterlite copper smelting plant in Tuticorin in 2018. It is plants like these that contribute to the rising temperatures of the water, killing the underwater ecosystem, and the corals which are sensitive to heat, but also cause the stark increase in incidence of cancer among the nearby households. 

The gaze of the 50 minute film is entirely sympathetic to Uma Mani, perhaps because it sees no reason to be critical. She lives with her son, and her dog, Bhairav, who sits by patiently while she paints the corals, in Kodaikanal. This documentary makes a very clear point albeit not so directly- that environmentalism is inherently political, anti-industry, and when push comes to shove, even anti-government. It is persuasive in its points that are often raised in on-screen texts that first show the alarming statistics before furnishing the context to the statistic. It is alarmist, but also hopeful as seen in the last dive shown in the film- where Uma beckons to Priya who is often heard asking questions during the film. And it is between these three dives- the first of beauty, the second of abjection, and third of hope- that the message of the film meanders. When Uma first dives underwater, after a lot of hesitation and agitation, she realizes that corals are also homes to fish who hover around nearby, using it as a sanctuary or a hideout. She goes back to her older paintings of corals, bereft of fish, and adds the creatures to it- one by one, stroke by stroke. If only reality were that simple too. 

The International Kids Film Festival, that is running from November 20th – December 20th is the world’s largest online children’s film festival, with over 150+ movies, from 40 countries in 25 languages. You can check out the film festival’s catalogue here– the films available include Natkhat starring Vidya Balan. Film age categories include – Below 7, 7+, 10+, 13+ and a special category for Parents & Educators.

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