Why Moti Bagh the Oscar-Nominated Documentary on an Uttarkhand Farmer Needs Our Attention

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Why Moti Bagh the Oscar-Nominated Documentary on an Uttarkhand Farmer Needs Our Attention

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

On Tuesday, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat tweeted that, Nirmal Chander Dandriyal’s Moti Bagh, a documentary based on the struggle of a farmer in a remote village in Uttarakhand, has been nominated for Oscars 2020. Congratulating Dandriyal, Rawat claimed that the film will inspire youth to stay back in their villages and work on the field instead of migrating. 

Moti Bagh chronicles the life of Vidyadutt Sharma, a 83-year-old farmer, who gave up a government job in his younger days to tend to a farm that his family owned in Uttarakhand’s Pauri Garhwal region. Farming is not a norm here but an anomaly, as thousands have abandoned their land in search of better opportunities. The documentary highlights how the state has witnessed migration in disturbing proportions, where villages after villages are lying empty with no one to till the land. 

Sharma might not have his neighbours, but giving him a helping hand is his Man Friday Ram Singh. The two-minute-long trailer, which is streaming on YouTube, shows Ram Singh, a Nepali farmer, working tirelessly on the field. Singh settled in the region  

with his family a decade ago and since then has been working in Moti Bagh. He talks about the time when he faced discrimination along with Bihari labourers. “Earlier locals called us names like Dutiyal, Nepali, and Bahadur,” he says. The trailer employs a fascinating gaze to pinpoint how it is the labour of Nepali farmers that is saving the farmland in Uttarakhand. In a perceptive scene, Sharma echoes that thought. “If Nepalis weren’t here, there would be no one to carry our corpses,” he confesses. 

Moti Bagh is not just the story of one farmer but it looks at the bigger picture, focussing on issues such as migration and the waning interest in agriculture.

Moti Bagh then is not just the story of one farmer but it looks at the bigger picture, focussing on issues such as migration and the waning interest in agriculture. At a time when farmer suicides remain rampant and younger generation of farming families are choosing to take up different professions, Moti Bagh is an important documentary that captures lives which remain in danger of being erased. It is not only an acknowledgement of the indispensability of migrant labour but also examines their plight. Ram Singh might have faced bigots but even after the locals have left, he stayed back and helped Sharma soldier on in his endeavour.  

When asked about Moti Bagh, Dandriyal told Scroll.in that the film is about “reconnecting with the land and being one with nature.” He said he has been concerned with the human condition. “I wanted to explore human bonds, rather than take a loud and didactic approach. I put myself into the mix in that way – my feelings and process came through in the way I framed the film.”

Before Moti Bagh, the 45-year-old Dandriyal has helmed documentaries on dancers from Gujarat’s Siddi community (All The World’s A Stage), on Chhau, a semi-classical dance from Odisha (The Face Behind the Mask), and on Begum Akhtar (Zikr Us Parivash Ka). 

Moti Bagh’s recognition comes almost seven months after a UP-based documentary film Period. End of Sentence, which focused on menstrual hygiene access for women in the country, bagged an Oscar in the Best Documentary (Short Category). Will it be two in a row for India?

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