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Capturing the life of a diver who explores the underwater world
Independent filmmaker Priya Thuvassery made a documentary called Coral Woman that portrays the journey of Uma Mani, who learned scuba diving at the age of 49.
A couple of years ago while working as a documentary filmmaker-television producer for a news channel Priya Thuvassery received a call from a scuba diver called Uma Mani requesting her to make a documentary on coral reefs on the Tamil Nadu coast. Priya wasn’t sure about the proposal and the duo started discussing the project. Uma’s story of turning a scuba diver at the age of 49 inspired Priya and instead of making a film on coral reef, she decided to make a 52-minute long documentary film on Uma called Coral Woman.
“Uma is a certified scuba diver from Kodaikanal who learned diving at the age of 49 just to explore the underwater world and the threat to coral reefs. Born in a traditional family, Uma, a homemaker, has been trying to bring attention to the alarming environmental issue through her paintings. It is, in fact, these corals that inspired Uma to learn how to swim, dive and paint.
She has been contacting different organisations and filmmakers with this request. After listening to her, the storyteller in me wanted to make a film on Uma and through her explore a world I had never dreamed of. Though our wish was stretched for two years, we continued our phone conversations, Skype chats and messages, with a confidence that one day we will make this film,” says Priya.
After quitting her job, she started researching coral reefs. The intent of the documentary was to know the Tamil Nadu coast through the eyes of a diver.
“Instead of making a generic film on corals by just travelling across the coast, I thought it would be nice if I could narrate a story from one coast. The film follows the journey of Uma on her diving expeditions and we travelled from Thoothukudi to Rameswaram,” adds the filmmaker.
Shooting and directing underwater were new experiences and at the same time challenging for Priya. “When I decided to make the film, the first thing I did was to learn swimming. During one of our conversations, Uma told me, ‘You should see the world I have seen’.
That was a wonderful statement; she was referring to a Tamil song by Gemini Ganesan. During the recce, I snorkelled with Uma in Rameswaram and it was one of the most memorable experiences. Coral Woman is not just Uma’s story but also has elements about what I as a filmmaker wants to convey to the world,” says Priya, who has fundraised, directed and edited several documentaries.
Though the shooting got completed in 10 days, Priya says that the post-production took a longer time. “The documentary has two sections — one is the diving part and the other is about Uma’s life. I stayed with her for a month and shot those portions,” Priya sums up.