Film review of “Have you seen the Arana?”: Award winning documentary feature on Wayanad’s treasure trove of flora and fauna – Kerala


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Bikas Mishra writes about Sunanda Bhat’s documentary feature which won the John Abraham Award recently | Read the entire review here >>

The Adiya people of Wayanad believe that their goddess has turned into the  lizard Arana. Earlier found everywhere, Arana is getting hard to spot nowadays. Filmmaker Sunanda Bhat uses the metaphor of an endangered reptile to take us on a poignant and breathtaking journey of the Wayanad district of Kerala which stands at the crossroads of transition.

“Have you seen the Arana” was researched for over five years. It was shot over eight months to capture all the seasons. It’s the first feature length documentary by the director whose earlier work “Bol Ayesha Bol” was screened at IDFA in 1998.

Nestled high on the Western Ghats, Wayanad is a treasure trove of flora and fauna. The native community of the Adiyas harvest a variety of rice here and live in harmony with nature. However, of late, things have started to change. Small community harvesting has given way to large scale commercial cash crop cultivation. Teak has replaced traditional trees in the jungle and resorts are coming up along the river bringing tourists and plastic. The natives of Wayanad feel uncomfortable with the change around them; however, they seem to be in little control of the situation.

What works in favour of the film is the lush green backdrop that the abundant natural beauty of Wayanad offers. Watching the film almost feels like going on a guided tour to Wayanad, thanks to the great cinematography and remarkable sound design. […]

In its scope “Have you seen the Arana?” is an ambitious film that sets out to capture the story of Wayanad in all its diversities and paradoxes. And to the credit of the filmmaker, she succeeds to a large extent. She follows three characters: a traditional healer, a cash crop farmer and a traditional rice farmer. Through these characters she manages to capture the extremely complex issues around tradition, change, mythology, livelihood and environment. […]

“Have you seen the Arana” works as a film because of its characters and their warmth. It’s a great achievement on the part of the filmmaker to build this kind of intimacy with her characters. She takes us through their homes, kitchens and paddy fields.  In her kitchen, while cooking for herself, in a powerful scene Jochi breaks down and shares how her children have deserted her. Such grand moments of revelation occur with each of the three principal characters.

The narratives of these characters are interspersed with local mythology and verses of a contemporary poet. The stories of ancestors and their discoveries give the film a mystical quality and work like a poetic refrain. […]

Source: Bikas Mishra about Sunanda Bhat’s award winning documentary feature film on Wayanad’s treasure trove of flora and fauna “Have you seen the Arana?” (, 21 April 2013)
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