HomeIndian AmericanAward winning Sundance fish tale pits tradition against technology

Award winning Sundance fish tale pits tradition against technology

By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts and Culture Reporter

Fishing as a hobby or sport is a world away from the daily worries of Rakesh and Ganesh, the focus of director Sarvnik Kaur’s documentary, Against the Tide. The film won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Vérité Filmmaking at Sundance. Kaur introduces the audience to a way of life that has survived for centuries but is now threatened by high-tech competition and environmental plundering.

For Koli caste members Rakesh (30) and Ganesh (32), fishing is part of their traditional occupation in Mumbai. In the traditional world, a fisherman doesn’t have much more than his skin and his faith to protect him against the ocean. Kaur provides a chant of hope and faith: “Tides turn; fear not” because “a Koli knows no fear.” The saying is, “Remember you’re a Koli; you fear nothing.” Even in modern times, their boats aren’t rickety and don’t afford much protection from the capricious seas.

Rakesh favors tradition. Ganesh wants to use technology to improve his haul. Ganesh reminds Rakesh that over the centuries fishing has included new practices like bottom-trawlingpurse seine fishing  and LED fishing. Their concerns may be local, but their problems are not. The Chinese are “plundering the seas with LEDs.”

Another Koli advises, “We should control our greed and just trust the ancestors.” Certainly technology and greed combined are toxic. Together those two things are threatening not only the Koli economics, but also the environment on a large scale. 

Kaur brings you into the homes and boats of these two men. We experience their harsh life and struggles, but these are not things that are totally being ignored. Although Kaur doesn’t point this out, fishing was one of the topics of President Joe Biden’s Asia trip in May 2022. The US, Japan, Australia and India have an initiative that hopes to curb illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific area which is primarily targeting mainland China.

By focusing on two Koli men being pulled apart by their differing views, but held together by affection and familial concerns, Kaur has personalized the concerns that four nations are struggling with and provided a warning against adhering to tradition, against greed and against forgetting how our actions affect each other. 

Against the Tide premiered at Sundance 2023. In Koli, Marathi and Hindi with English subtitles. Running time: 97 minutes. 

For more on this film, visit my blog: AgeOfTheGeek.org.

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