PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 20: (L–R) Quentin Laurent, Sarvnik Kaur, and Koval Bhatia attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “Against the Tide” premiere at the Egyptian Theatre on January 20, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Momodu Mansaray/Getty Images)
By Lucy Spicer
When director Sarvnik Kaur came upon the idea for Against the Tide, which premiered January 20 at the Egyptian Theatre, she was looking for some good in the world.
“I figured out very early on that the world was paradoxical,” she says at the documentary’s post-premiere Q&A. “Good, when it takes itself too seriously, becomes evil, and evil can be a turning point for regeneration, for re-creation. And in between these two men — we’re talking about modernity and tradition — there was a conversation between the heart and the mind for me.”
The men she speaks of are Rakesh and Ganesh, two fishermen part of the Koli community in Bombay. Rakesh fishes using traditional methods on a small boat, while Ganesh is in charge of a larger, more modern vessel that uses higher-tech methods for deep-sea fishing. Their lives look pretty different on the surface, yet the two are close friends. “There was a love that bound them — love of identity, love of the sea, which went way beyond, way, way, beyond their differences,” says Kaur.
Another thing the two have in common is their current lack of fishing success. The waters along Bombay’s coast are heavily polluted and home to increasing numbers of jellyfish species, both of which are contributing to the dwindling fish population. Despite their differences in lifestyle, both men are feeling the financial strain — Ganesh from his modern Bombay flat, and Rakesh from his modest home that only recently acquired running water.
Ganesh takes out loans and contemplates further unscrupulous fishing methods, while Rakesh’s mother urges her son to remain humble and pray for a better catch. Both men have growing families for whom they need to provide, and it’s not up to us to judge either of them. “This film has been done with a lot of diligence, with a lot of love, with a lot of honesty, and transparency that there were no good and evil that I was looking for, no heroes and villains that I was trying to portray,” explains Kaur during the post-premiere discussion.
Kaur’s vérité approach seeks to place the audience in Rakesh’s and Ganesh’s homes while simultaneously reminding us that their struggles aren’t black and white. “I needed for them to resonate with my voice,” says Kaur. “I needed for them to understand where I was at, because I was not going with some sanctimonious idea of ‘I know how your life is, or better than you know it.’ I went with, ‘Can you show me the way? My creativity is limited, and your lives are infinite. Just let me be there.’”
The long process of observing the two men’s everyday lives is what truly brought home the purpose of the project for Kaur. “For the focus of our film, it was always that life is tough, and it’s full of tragedy, and yet it’s a joy. It’s a celebration. And the celebration is hidden in these small, little moments.”