ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Lost Space in Kalira Atita

From the dynamic maze of bustling international diplomacy to a serene village in coastal Odisha, climate change is central to Kalira Atita.

The authors would like to thank Prajna Paramita Mishra, Soumya Vinayan, Deepthi Krishna, and Anudeep Gujjeti for their suggestions.

The precarity of humanity is becoming abundantly clear with a climate change-induced rise in sea levels. Rural coastal economies are suffering due to mindless emissions by some of the most advanced economies of the world. Of the Indian coastal regions facing vulnerability, Odisha has borne the brunt of climate change. Though there are several effective institutional mechanisms in place to mitigate the damage to local communities, these are often rendered futile given the increased frequency of such events. The acclaimed Odia film Kalira Atita (Yesterday’s Past 2020), written and directed by Nila Madhab Panda, deals pertinently with this issue. From the dynamic maze of bustling international diplomacy to a serene village in coastal Odisha, climate change is central to Kalira Atita. It revolves around three important and interlinked issues—the state’s infrastructures to adapt to climate change, the borderline livelihoods practised by a coastal economy and its intricacies, and the cost of submergence.

The movie is inspired by real events in Satavaya village in the coastal district of Kendrapara, and its gradual submergence into the sea. Gunu Babu lives in Satavaya with his parents, wife, and two children in a thatched hut like others in the neighbourhood—a cluster of families, almost entirely dependent on the sea. Their socio-economic vulnerability is compounded by a lack of social security; a mild economic shock can snowball into deep, long-lasting poverty. When his father—the sole earning member of the family—is injured, the unemployed Gunu is taunted by his wife. Frustrated, he leaves home. The movie begins at this point —on a chaotic note with wailing cyclone warnings and people being evacuated from Bagapatia in the face of an approaching cyclone. Gunu arrives in Bagapatia (where people of the submerged Satavaya village are currently rehabilitated) back from where he works, searching for his family and home lost to the sea. This leads him down a path of reminiscence—of a vanished home and loved ones. His descent into mental anguish and vulnerability while facing a cyclone forms the crux of the film. After arriving in Bagapatia, he advances towards the coast to find an almost submerged Satavaya with only the remnants of a human settlement. He reaches his dilapidated house brimming with memories. His painstaking efforts to pick up the fallen thatched roof and failure to draw water from a tube well depict his realisation of the circumstances. He realises his forlorn state and futility of clinging on to the beautiful past washed away by the sea.

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