WHAT happens when an actor’s love for cinema and the environment go hand in hand? Telugu character artist and short-film maker Gangadhar Panday knows the answer. Panday decided to use the power of the medium media to increase awareness about environmental issues confronting the earth through Babul Films Society. In order to dedicate himself full-time to the cause, Panday took early retirement from his government job. Babul Films Society besides making films organises film festivals, eco-film screenings, and short film contests, and uses social media effectively to spread awareness about environmental sustainability.

Give speaks with Panday about his journey, his interest in the environment, what motivated him to found the NGO and much more.

Give: From working for the government to finding interest in cinema and the environment – tell us about that journey.

Gangadhar Panday: I was born and brought up in a town at the foothills of Nallamala forest (Andhra Pradesh). I started working when I was 18 and continued my studies without attending regular college. In 1984 I joined the Government of India in Delhi. I also used to prepare for competitive exams, but I wanted to do something new after a couple of shifts in jobs and places. I joined Rasaranjani, a Telugu theatre group. The acting bug bit me. I got formal training in acting from Central University, Hyderabad and took some acting assignments in Telugu cinema and television. 

As a child, I was fond of cycling and rode to the forest edge about 15 kms away from my home. The pond with crystal clear water flowing from an unknown source throughout the year at the famous Mahanandi temple fascinated me. I learned how to swim there. Riding a bike, swimming, and sleeping –  were my routine on weekends during my school days. My connection with nature made me do a few courses on the environment from IGNOU.

Actors have to spend a lot of time on the sets while the shoot is being set up. During those times, I used to question myself as to why cinema was mostly restricted to commercial purposes and why there was a terrible waste of power and resources during shooting etc. While work and family kept me busy, I was also thinking about combining cinema and the environment. Once I became eligible for pension, I took voluntary retirement from my job and I established Babul Films Society with focus on environmental education through cinema.

Give: What are some of the most significant changes Babul Films Society has brought in using films and new media as eco-advocacy tools?

GP: The changing times need an innovative approach. Gone are the days when you print and distribute a handout, and the message reached people. 

In the present environment, organic reach is possible when the communication strategy is devised cleverly and executed with proper targeting. Outreach through environmental films and social media are excellent ways to spread awareness. 

Give: Tell us a bit about ‘sustainable film-making.

GP: Film-making in India, as a process, pays little attention to sustainability. For instance, huge sets are erected and demolished and they may appear for only a few minutes in the film; energy-guzzling processes are part of the process, too. The aim for a ‘perfect’ end product means sustainability is not on the priority list. But in my opinion, sustainability has to be built into the planning, production, post-production, promotion, and propagation of films and videos. The costs to the environment need to be kept in mind, and necessary changes have to be brought in. The road is long, but the final destination is not out of sight. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the film industry to learn new ways of working, and hopefully, this sets in a positive trend for the ecology.

Give: What is the biggest problem you face as an NGO promoting awareness about the environment, biodiversity and sustainable development?

GP: Since our primary focus is awareness/education on environmental issues, answering questions of our donors who want measurable, empirical impact is our biggest challenge.

Being a non-profit, we also have to survive and thrive in a world that is surrounded by a for-profit mindset. To make people understand the concept of cost to the environment seems like a herculean task, at least initially. And then there is the issue of funds. We always have to be prepared to expand or shrink depending on the funding for a particular project.  We cannot shift gears frequently as per the needs of donors when it comes to choosing and executing projects.

Give: What movie last made you tear up? If movies don’t make you cry, then which one had the most emotional impact?

GP: The Kashmir Files (2022) was the last film that made me tear up. Schindler’s List (1993) also had a similar effect on me.

Give: If you could have a superpower, what would that be?

GP: One superpower I would like to have is to bring to life what the world would be like in 2050 if we humans continue to be environmentally irresponsible. I want to scare the people to act, and resolve to make our planet liveable.

To support Babul Films Society, you can donate here.

Interviewed by Sruthy Natarajan


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