SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Writer-director Sarvnik Kaur’s documentary, Against The Tide, tells the tale of two indigenous Koli fishermen, Rakesh and Ganesh, in Bombay. Rakesh struggles to make ends meet as a small boat fisherman, staying faithful to the traditional Koli way of following the tides. He works hard to provide for his family and his pushy mother, but no matter what comes his way, he strives to stay humble and respect the sea.
By comparison, Ganesh was lucky to study business in the West when he was younger and lives a comfortable life in the city. All this is thanks to family’s money. He embraces the modern ways, and is driven by profit, even if it means using less than eco-friendly techniques and technologies to catch bigger fish on bigger boats.
Throughout their journeys, Rakesh and Ganesh face similar difficulties as demand increases while supply decreases. For both, bills are piling, and global warming is a threat. Spanning a few years, we see how rites, family, globalization, and various external factors will test fisherfolks’ brotherhood and community. Yet, notwithstanding their disagreement on how to fish, how to do business, or what it means to be successful, Rakesh and Ganesh’s bond is a strong one forged in the fearless Koli beliefs.
Engrossing and bewitching Against The Tide is very affecting. Although it does not make a grand declaration about the state of the oceans, India, or the world, Kaur manages to poignantly and effectively show us how bad things really are. There are poetic shots of shoals of garbage floating and continuously being caught in fishermen’s nets, only to be thrown back into the water. These images are depressing enough to make grown men weep. Observing how it impacts almost every aspect of our protagonists’ lives is one of the best forms of activism: showing us unquestionable facts without taking a stance.
Likewise, Kaur exposes the wickedness of the social classes and economic disparities on many levels. But on the other hand, she shows us that despite the highs and lows, men like Rakesh and Ganesh can find happiness and comfort in helping each other. Yes, even if that means venting around a fire with a beer and some freshly caught fish.
Against The Tide is a revelation. It not only tells an important story but is amazing to look at. The cinematography is wonderful, and it’s very impressive how the filmmaker manages to film some of the boat ride scenes or how it always seems like the camera is never there as people go about their day so naturally.
Additionally, the documentary is very intimate, often filmed very close up. Yet it never feels intrusive. Despite being a purely observational documentary, the characters and their relationships are explored in all their complexities and subtleties. It all unfolds seamlessly, akin to traditional narrative features.
The movie enables viewers to witness firsthand how indigenous people are unable to keep their cultures. It also looks at how society has corrupted men and has forever changed ancestral traditions. This will touch more than one with fascinating ritual scenes of babies thrown in the air, cinematic boat rides at dawn, to equally heartwarming and heartbreaking scenes of fishermen candidly expressing their desperation yet showing perseverance.
In the end, Against The Tide will make you root for Rakesh, Ganesh, and other Koli fishermen, no matter how helpless they are or what illegal activities they are involved in. We are made to question or condone the subjects but also to empathize and understand where they’re coming from without judgment. So, we can only wish to see more projects offering these unfiltered and unaltered truths in an effortlessly beautiful manner.
Against The Tide screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.