Men fighting to provide for their families can lead some to take drastic measures. However, it’s important not to lose oneself in the process. For Against the Tide, documentary filmmaker Sarvnik Kaur follows two men driven to that line. One man traveled the world while his childhood friend began fishing at a young age. As Rakesh and Ganesh face moral quandaries, their approaches vastly differ. Kaur’s camera catches the struggles of the two men in vivid detail and captures strikingly intimate footage in the process.
In Bombay, the indigenous Koli community relies on the seas as a primary source of income. Two men, Rakesh and Ganesh, approach their recent struggles fishing with different ideological concerns. For Rakesh, using his inherited boat provides his family with enough food and money to survive. However, Rakesh faces poverty, all while his newborn son faces health concerns. Meanwhile, Ganesh comes from money. He returned to Bombay after attending college in the United Kingdom and hopes to modernize his operation. Yet a lack of fish may undermine his business and put his financial future in jeopardy.
Kaur’s direction allows Against the Tide to function as a morality test for the audience. She refuses to utilize narration, instead allowing pulling the voices of her subjects to let them speak in their own words. She also drops testimonials. Her camera and her sound team create a natural environment around the subjects. The images they capture is stunning, especially with how frequently they craft unusual frames for documentary filmmaking. This creates an authenticity documentarian’s ideal scenario. The material on hand carries an intriguing, natural narrative.
The Koli tribe finds itself at a turning point, and this ideological battle swallows much of the film. The battle between modernization via LED lights creates a legitimate culture war in the community. Even though Rakesh and Ganesh support each other through the perils of their personal lives, their relationship hangs by a thread when LED fishing arises in conversation.
The tragedy of the situation can be seen on the boats. The seas struggle to provide the fish these men need to avoid debt while Chinese fishing vessels continue to harvest the waters. The effects of overfishing have come to Bombay. Through the eyes of these men, we see the true struggles unfold.
Even when they put their lives on the line, both at sea and in business, they find obstacles in their path at every step. It makes the stakes of Against the Tide greater that each man finds themselves embracing fatherhood. The weight of their choices is apparent in their thousand-yard stares. Kaur shoots the film beautifully while capturing an emotional story of oppressive forces beyond our control. It makes Against the Tide one of the best documentaries at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.