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Against the Tide

The Arabian Sea, a portion of the Indian Ocean that was a major trade route cine the time of Caesar and before, has been fished by the Koli caste of India for millennia, practically. Now the sea is dying, a potential casualty of climate change. It is, apparently, “monotonously warming.” That’s even worse than what the climate change we are trying to become accustomed to is doing to the rest of the world. The sea is also, as we see in many rankly harrowing shots in this movie, increasingly clotted with pollutants like plastic.

“Against the Tide,” a documentary directed by Sarvnik Kaur, depicts environmental disaster with an intimate lens. It begins with a beginning: a ritual for a newborn child, in which the baby is oiled and instructed that he is a Koli and that he fears nothing. Kaur shoots and edits this movie like a fiction film; in scenes of celebration or other kinds of gathering, she gets enough “coverage” to create narrative lines that move with the dispatch of cinematic drama. Her focus is on two families that need to fish to live.

Rakesh is a young man with a modest boat and a great belief in the ancient traditions of the Koli people. Ganesh is kitted out with more modern technology and is ever casting a metaphorical net for more efficient ways to get a catch. One current trend he’s intrigued by is LED fishing: using underwater lights to attract fish. “Selling just one shipment of LED lights will make me millions,” he muses to his wife. Except such a move is of dubious legality. And there are ecological costs to the practice. Rakesh, of course, regards such practice as anathema. He processes his livelihood as a sort of sacrosanct act. “Trust the ancestors” is an adage he repeats to himself. But did the ancestors ever foresee the ecological catastrophe that this industry faces now?

The differences between Rakesh and Ganesh are humorous at first, as when Ganesh outlines a payday for Rakesh that’ll enable the two to take a trip to Scotland, where Ganesh was once a student. Eventually, their contention leads to a rift. All the while, their stresses are many. Ganesh owes everywhere and can’t put together that one big catch to pay anyone off. Rakesh’s son has a heart ailment. Equipment needs constant upkeep and repair.

There is still a lot of natural beauty in this movie’s setting, and Kaur sets some of the conversations between her people in front of dazzling sunrises and roiling seascapes. The imagery provides a consistent reminder of what these men—and the rest of the world—have to lose. 

Now playing in theaters. 

Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny was the chief film critic of Premiere magazine for almost half of its existence. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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Film Credits

Against the Tide movie poster

Against the Tide (2023)

97 minutes

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