Avatar's important message: Respect nature

Avatar's important message: Respect nature

Avatar's important message: Respect nature

The film portrays ecological concerns.“Avatar” is Hollywood extravaganza in the truest sense, every bit of the Rs 1,200 crore spent in creating a different world going towards visual detailing one has hardly seen earlier.

What’s more, the world, for the first time ever, has a movie to thank for getting a completely new, full-fledged language as Cameron developed through a specialist linguist, to be spoken by the Na’vi community, inhabitants of the imaginary planet Pandora, in which the story is set.

Indeed, the curiosity levels about the film has been unbelievably high, and this has got to do with, apart from all the above elements, the fact that Cameron’s last film, made about a decade ago, was a certain classic called “Titanic”, arguably the world’s greatest box office hit ever. But “Avatar” is an important film for the times we live in for reasons different from all this. Beyond all the technical wizadry and an epical, updated “Star Wars” kind of look that only Hollywood big money can bring in, Cameron has given through “Avatar” a film that looks at some major concerns of our planet through his story set in another planet.

Consider this. In Orissa’s famine-famous and mineral-rich Kalahandi district lies Niyamgiri Hills, home to the Kandha tribe. The people there worship those hills where they believe reside their traditional gods who protect them from all ills. The tribals have been living in perfect harmony with the nature around them.

But now they are facing a threat of being uprooted from what has been their home for eons, thanks to mining multinationals like the controversial Vedanta group who want to extract precious Bauxite that lies beneath those sacred hills. The tribal population has been agitating against this “takeover” of their sacred land, and civil society organisations and NGOs are helping spread the word about it to the outside world. The same story is being repeated in various forms in different parts of the world with indigenous populations being uprooted, their homelands plundered and their beliefs trampled upon in the name of development. One can see it in the case of the African blood diamonds and also in the Amazonian jungles of Latin American countries. At another level, there is this whole range of real war games that are played regularly across quite a few petro-nations, sometimes in the name of imaginary weapons of mass destruction, the excuse the United States gave while invading Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein.

Public imagination

There have been hundreds of powerful documentaries about these issues, but they being documentaries, are never able to catch public imagination and are always limited to a niche audience. A few movies on such issues get around the festival circuits but hardly reach the mass audience, two of the few notable exceptions being “Titanic” star Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer “Blood Diamond” and Bill Kroyer’s animated “Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest”.

Cameron’s film takes up this major people-versus-development issue in the most accessible way. Human beings, after looting all the resources on their own planet living it bereft of even any vegetation, are now eyeing a highly-precious ore lying beneath the sacred land of Na’vis, which can permanently resolve the energy crisis on Earth. To try and win over the natives, human scientists develop a hybrid of them, in which Na’vi bodies are driven by human consciousness through a mixing of DNAs of both races.

The idea is to send those hybrids to among the natives so that they can first learn their customs and language and become one of them, and then persuade them to relocate from their ancestral homeland. If they don’t relocate by reason, use force against them — if necessary, even kill them — is the credo of the plundering humans.

“Avatar” basically presents a story, which by now is known in detail to almost everybody with the film’s worldwide release this week, in the typical good-versus-evil format, with a few ‘good’ humans finally taking the side of the natives to drive the evil beings out after an epic war of modern technology-versus-ancient bows and arrows weaponry.

There may even be arguments that finally — a la Hollywood — it takes a few ‘good’ Americans (the human characters in the film are, typically, American English-speaking men and women) to save the planet, even if it is a distant one, from doom. But as it does so, it consistently underscores the need to be respectful to and learn to live in harmony with nature, using its resources in a sustainable way, and without development leading to mass displacement or other such hardships to people.

The film’s exquisite and imaginary world and fantastic visual imagery makes it a product of mass appeal. Whoever watched the 3D version will get drawn inside that world. Cameron obviously has used these devices to tell a story in a part fairytale, part fantasy, part war epic movie, but more importantly, he has used all this to tell the world that respect nature, and it will respect you. Plunder it, and it will get back at you sometime or the other.