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Interview Silent

Animators Upamanyu Bhattacharyya and Kalp Sanghvi on creating the climate change short film Wade

The animation film Wade was recently screened as part of the virtual Dharamshala film festival 2020.

Kalp Sanghvi and Upamanyu Bhattacharyya

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Created by animators Upamanyu Bhattacharyya and Kalp Sanghvi, the climate change horror short film Wade (2020) imagines a dystopian world where humans are grappling with the effects of climate change as their lives have been irrevocably changed.

The animated film unfolds at a point in the future when the city of Kolkata is flooded, forcing animals and humans to compete for survival. Instead of being a sermonizing cautionary tale about the horrors unleashed by climate change, the film takes us right into the midst of a world frightfully altered.

The filmmakers got the idea from a news report about Ghoramara island in the Sunderbans delta complex, just 92 kilometres south of Kolkata. The island has been disappearing with the rising sea level and an alarming rate of soil erosion. Given the proximity of the island to Kolkata, the filmmakers imagined environmental refugees wandering in the city, which has been evacuated because of rising water levels.

Wade review: An ominous film about what the future may hold

“We tasked ourselves with making a film that really belongs to Kolkata in terms of not just being set in the city, but also [dealing with] concerns that belong to the city in a unique way," Bhattacharyya explained.

"When we look at the future of a city like Kolkata, it is overwhelming to see evidence of climate change on the horizon because, given our location and elevation, we are likely to be one of the worst affected in the next few decades. When you look at the city with that awareness, it’s difficult to see it without fast forwarding to the future and seeing what it looks like,” he continued.

Bhattacharyya said “standard movie treatment" of the issue gets a "fairly unilateral Hollywoodish interpretation" with the rise in sea level manifesting itself as a dramatic disaster, like a tsunami. "But I think it will be a slow, creeping concern," he said, explaining that if land steadily goes under water, people would be forced over time to move.

"More than just the current refugee crisis, it’s about what kind of a world we are in right now," he continued, "and what do we think about people who have had to move into our spaces.

"More than anything, through this film, we wanted people to think about what kind of person they would end up being on the other side of climate change. Are you likely to understand if someone comes into your space to share your city because they don’t have a home any more? Or are you likely to say that you don’t care and we have problems of our own, so you go back?"

Wade foregrounds the struggle for survival and reimagines the conflict between man and nature which takes on a different meaning as boundaries, walls and demarcations between spaces just disappear and human scavengers are locked in a constant battle with wild animals.

“I think instead of man versus nature, climate change is going to end up being nature versus nature again," Bhattacharyya said. "Besides, how far are we willing to go to stay alive? I think it becomes a very primal situation all over again.”

Sanghvi added, “We have got varied interpretations [to the film]. It’s very open in terms of what the supernatural and magical elements are on top of the climate change crisis we have tried to show. There is a huge population of tigers in the Sunderbans and humans are living very close to these animals, which is a constant threat.”

A still from the film Wade

The use of 2D animation allowed the animators a great deal of flexibility in creating an alternative universe, bringing alive the desperate situation of its inhabitants and portraying the response to such a catastrophe.

“Animation as a medium is a blank canvas," Bhattacharyya said. "The physics is up to you, the biology is up to you, the rules are up to you, the logic of the universe is entirely up to you, and something post-climate change does have the perversions where even nature has to adapt, so animation allowed us to bring those elements in and take them a little beyond. It is rooted in reality but also departs from it in some ways. That helps us drive our point further."

The creator felt that this freedom may have been circumscribed by more modern CGI animation. "You can find a cast of humans and CG some tigers in like the new Lion King movie," he said, "but I don’t think you will be able to get this effect, like this particular distortion of anatomy, making the hunger more apparent, or widening the eyes in such a way that they [the characters] are in a constant state of panic. The drawn image as opposed to the photographed image allows you to make these exaggerations and highlight them. In addition to the standard tools of dialogue and sound, animation affords you the chance of doing this with your drawing, your choice of colours, etc.”

Sanghvi and Bhattacharyya are part of a team of animators who set up Ghost Animation, a studio in Kolkata. Speaking of the driving force behind their work, Sanghvi said, “We are six partners at Ghost Animation and it has been more than three years now. We have come together because of our love for the medium and storytelling, and the kind of stories we have been putting out has been very personal and has a lot of local flavour. We pick something simple and go into it and something nice comes out, which is very relatable to people everywhere, not just in India. The way the city has been destroyed by climate change in Wade, I think anyone in the world would relate to it, even if the streets shown are of Kolkata.”

Bhattacharyya added, “We are still figuring out what our voice is, what are the things we truly believe in. Once we start applying it to longer format stories, we will have a better idea of what our overarching theme is. In general, it’s exciting to try to accelerate a lot of these local stories being told by local creators and storytellers to ensure that more people end up finishing their animated films and it becomes self-sustaining.”

The animators have travelled across India with Wade and organized more than 20 screenings where the film was received well. They hope that through their work they can get audiences to see animation as an engaging form for telling stories.

“I would like to believe that after a time, as long as it is executed competently, whether it's animation or live action, the audience will start engaging with it on the story level," Bhattacharyya said.

Sanghvi added, "After we screened our film, a lot of the feedback was of people engaging with the story both positively and negatively. Animation being cartoons for children, that boundary is slowly going away.”

Wade was screened recently as part of the Dharamshala International Film Festival and also at the Manchester Animation Festival from 15–19 November.

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Dharamshala International Film Festival