Bellary's Wild West ways

Oct 30, 2011, 09:29 IST | Aditi Sharma

The earth lies ravaged, the man on the street is frustrated and, at least some of the perpetrators are behind bars. Even as the story develops in Bellary, Karnataka, find out how things got so bad through Paranjoy Guha Thakur's documentary, Blood And Iron

It's difficult keeping pace with the mining scam rooted in Bellary. For the first time, the country is witnessing a convergence of business, politics and crime that has wrecked havoc on an entire eco-system. When the controversy first broke, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an independent educator, journalist and filmmaker based in Delhi, headed to Bellary to record the facts of the matter, resulting in the documentary film Blood & Iron. An interview:

A still from Blood & Iron shows the extent of damage done to the
environment there

Justice Hegde has called Bellary the Wild West and adds that miners are the law there. Was it difficult shooting the documentary in such conditions?
When we made this film in March 2010, the first rushes were shown in Bengaluru in December that year and all through this period the Gali Reddy brothers were in power, and BS Yedyurappa was the Chief Minister. But it was relatively easy to speak to people off the record. To some extent, this was because I was an outsider and parachuted myself in and out of the place. But yes, we were shooting without taking permissions. We'd never stay overnight in any one location. Importantly, we got a lot of support from locals even though they were hesitant because there were extremely powerful people intimidating them. There was no dearth of people who'd tell me, 'Don't tangle with the mining lobby, they're extremely dangerous.' But over the years one has learnt to keep important people informed about one's activities while shooting in sensitive areas. We were essentially following George Bush's policy of shoot and scoot.

The numbers in the Bellary case are mind-boggling. Was it a task to edit the film into 93 minutes?
The first version of the film ran into two hours and 15 minutes. The audience in Bengaluru and Hyderabad was willing to sit through the longer screening because this was a subject that involved politicians from their states. Now we've made a tighter version of the film that I'm going to show in Mumbai. The first version shows people saying the Gali Reddy brothers won't be caught. This version includes an epilogue, so it ends with Gali Janardhan Reddy's arrest and he had these illusions that he'd get away. The gold throne that they found at his place during the raid shows that he believed himself to be a medieval monarch.

You found it difficult to raise funds for the film.
See, most documentary films can be made in a budget of Rs 4 to 8 lakhs but the budget of this film went up to Rs 16 lakhs. A fourth of the money came from the Centre for Science and Environment, Common Cause and donations from friends. Roughly a fourth of funding was raised through TV channels that showed the film in various languages. The remaining half was cobbled together through small donations from people, including people who picked up the DVD. It was a challenge because there were people who believed in the cause but could not associate with it openly.

Bellary, earlier an agriculture-dependent district, stands ravaged today. What happens to the people living there when the spotlight moves away?
What happens from here depends on the CBI. They have a strong case against the Gali Reddy brothers. The sheer brazenness with which the brothers exploited their power has resulted in a sharp fall in the raw material and devastated the area. Even those who were willing to play by the rules have been clamped down by the Supreme Court ruling and there's a huge shortage of iron ore.  They've ruined the economy of the entire country and today their political godfathers are distancing themselves. Sushma Swaraj and Jagan Reddy are saying they have nothing to do with the Gali Reddy brothers. The people of Bellary, are really unhappy, angry and frustrated because business is finished. Farmers have lost cultivable land. We must learn an important lesson in sustainable development from the event of Bellary.

Vikalp@Prithvi will screen Blood & Iron on October 31, 7 pm, at Prithvi House, opposite Prithvi Theatre, Janki Kutir, Juhu Church Road, Vile Parle (W).

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