Published: 20th June 2020
Striking gold in Thariode: How this director's yen for history led to this documentary
Nirmal Baby Varghese, the director of the documentary Thariode speaks about the history of gold mining in Kerala and the international actors who will be part of his feature film
While people boast about buying pure gold jewellery just to indicate their economic status and jewellery brands grandly advertise their products on the latest models, no one ever thinks about the impact the industry has on the environment. But film director Nirmal Baby Varghese felt the need to highlight this and thus, filmed a documentary titled Thariode on the gold mining that was once done, many years ago, in Thariode village, Kerala. And while the mining has stopped now, it had led to cutting of lakhs of trees, changing the geography of Thariode.
Nirmal, who is yet to release the film but released its trailer in October 2019 through actor Shine Tom Chacko’s Facebook page, says, "Ever since I was a child, I have always loved films. It was in 10th standard that I started noticing the various technical aspects involved in filmmaking, which sparked a craze in me for the industry." Talking about how he stumbled upon the idea for the film, he continues, "One day, I learnt from my father that the British used to mine gold from my village of Thariode in the 19th century. I was so intrigued by that piece of historical information that I started to dig deeper into it. I wanted to create a film based on the story told by my father and I created a brief outline of the film after scavenging for information on gold mining from various books and, of course, the internet."
The location in Thariode village where the documentary was shot
Since this 26-year-old director was curious to know about the history of Thariode, he chose History as a major subject during graduation despite being a Commerce student in school. "I chose to work on the history of gold mining in Thariode as my final-year project. This helped me discover a lot of facts about Thariode and the mining. When I found out that the information I gathered over the years couldn’t be made into a commercial film, I started working on the documentary. Though I had the idea way back in 2014, I could only start shooting in 2018 and I completed it by June 2019. By March 2020, the post-production was also completed. Since the place is like a heaven on Earth, we decided to capture most of these places in our film. We have used DJI Osmo Pocket 3-axis stabilised handheld camera for shooting the film. For aerial shots, DJI Phantom 4 Pro and for underwater shots, GoPro HERO 8 have also been used," says this alumnus of Grotek Institute of Film Technology.
What makes the 35-minute-long film unique is its background music that was composed by British musician Owain Hoskins. The voice script of the documentary is based on interviews given by famed historians KKN Kurup, Mundakkayam Gopi, Journalist OK Johnny, as well as some villagers of Thariode. But why enlist the services of a British musician, we wonder. Nirmal tells us, "A detailed depiction of the region under British India forms the central theme of the documentary, hence, we choose a British music director to work with. Apart from the music, the beautiful narration by National Film Award-winning dubbing artist and actor, Professor Aliyar makes it unique. I have plans to make this a feature film with international actors including Bill Hutchens, Luing Andrews, Alexx O’Nell, Courtney Sanello, Amelie Leroy and Brendan Byrne."
When we ask about the government's role in stopping the gold mining, he says, "There hasn’t been a necessity for the present State Government to take any actions because the old Thariode town doesn’t exist today. Today, it is a lost place. In order to create the reservoir for the Banasura Sagar dam, the town was evacuated. Hence, most of old town and other areas that were previously mined are submerged under the reservoir. The rest of the mining happened in the Lady Smith forest of Thariode," adding, "The government had, long ago, banned any gold mining activities inside the forests. Furthermore, most of the villagers are unaware of any such gold deposits in the area."
Currently, Nirmal is working on his next project titled Vazhiye, a found-footage horror film. According to him, it is going to be the first Malayalam movie to be made entirely in the ‘found-footage’ style of filming. All the actors are debutants and Hollywood music director Evan Evans will be composing for this film. Shooting was slated to begin by April 2020 but it got postponed due to the pandemic. Nirmal hopes that he can resume shooting soon.