Filmmaker captures healing power of India's forests to inspire people

Jul 13, 2018, 07:00 IST | Snigdha Hasan

After two years of extensive travel, covering the forests of the Himalayan foothills to the jungles of the southernmost Western Ghats in Kerala, and the stories of people who serve them, India's Healing Forests is almost ready for release

Filmmaker captures healing power of India's forests to inspire people
Gurugram's Aravali Biodiversity Park in bloom

The city with its many multiplexes and malls can keep even the most easily bored among us occupied, but come July and true-blue Mumbaikars will flock to the verdant hills and gushing waterfalls of Lonavla on the first rain-soaked weekend. For, to paraphrase the prescient words of WH Davies, in a life that's full of care, we all need to stand and stare.

But over the decades, our connect with nature has become so ephemeral that we are reminded of it through the mumbo jumbo of rejuvenating getaways, ayurvedic and naturopathy packages, or when the fury of nature becomes too immediate to ignore.
As an army child who has grown up across diverse geographies of India, Nitin Das is no stranger to the power of nature. But it was when he read about the healing forests of China and Japan, created as a retreat for their citizens to ease stress levels, that the Pune-based filmmaker began his research in the area. It culminated in the short film, How Forests Heal People (2016), which speaks of the results of numerous scientific studies that have shown how the brain behaves differently when in nature, sending calming signals to the body, which in turn help improve our immunity. Set against picturesque landscapes and a soothing narration, the film garnered over 10 million views.

Gurugram's Aravali Biodiversity Park
Gurugram's Aravali Biodiversity Park

Now wanting to explore the healing forests of India, Das submitted his proposal to the Public Service Broadcasting Trust for a full-length documentary, which got approved. After two years of extensive travel, covering the forests of the Himalayan foothills to the jungles of the southernmost Western Ghats in Kerala, and the stories of people who serve them, India's Healing Forests is almost ready for release.

"The film offered a great opportunity to bring together science with examples of people who are doing wonderful work in absolute harmony with nature," says Das, sharing the names of some of the organisations and individuals featured in the film. The Chirag School in Kumaon, for instance, focuses on laying the foundation for responsible, environment-friendly living. The Sadhana forest in Kerala has been created out of an expanse of degraded land by an army of volunteers. And Mumbai's eco-travel group, Journeys With Meaning, made it to the documentary after Das signed up with them for a tour into the sacred forests of Meghalaya.

Nitin Das
A traveller soaks in the calm of Shimla's reserve forests (inset) Nitin Das

"While on the one hand, we are growing disconnected from nature, we are becoming increasingly health conscious on the other. But what we need to understand is that our health is dependent on the health of the environment we live in," Das, who also has an online resource where nature lovers from across the world share their learning, explains.

Once the film releases, Das plans to take it across India, where each screening will be accompanied by a nature walk. In Mumbai, which enjoys the rare gift of a forest within its limits, Das's obvious choice for a walk would be the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the Aarey Colony. The developmental threat that looms over the city's green lungs has also got to do with the nature-man disconnect, Das feels. He says, "Just because people don't visit these places, they feel everything in their world is fine. Only when we rekindle our bond with nature will communities be formed. And their collective voice will have a far greater impact than any environment activist's will."

Kumaon
The Western Ghats in the monsoon

Log on to: healingforest.org/india

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