The salt flats in Thar Desert

My Name is Salt: hard work for the whitest salt in the world

Images of an endless desert, with soft colors, in a silence that talks about fatigue and resignation, broken only if necessary. The Rann of Kutch is one of the most suggestive region of India. Located in the Thar Desert, it contains the peculiar salt flat whence the whitest salt of the Earth is extracted, thanks to the action of the summer monsoon, that periodically fill the desert with the seawater and make it one of the most fascinating natural places in the world.

For eight months, from September to April, 40.000 Indian families reach the desert to extract this extraordinary salt. This is where they live in poor conditions, without water and electricity, working for a small salary.

My Name is Salt - poster

Among many families there is also the one of Chhanabhai, the protagonist of My Name is Salt, documentary directed in 2013 by Indian director Farida Pacha. The movie participated in a lot of environmental film festivals, many of these members of the Green Film Network: it received the Special Mention at Cinemambiente Festival of Turin, at FICA of Goiás and at DokuFest of Prizren, in addition to the Best Film award at the EcoCup of Moscow. Many consents also during other festivals of the Network, like the EcoZine Festival of Zaragoza, the CMS Vatavaran of New Delhi, the EFF of Washington, the RIEC-IWFE of Daegu, Gyeongbuk and the Pelicam of Tulcea.

The director leads us in the middle of the desert, to observe the life of many families who live there, their daily difficulties and the techniques that each of them hands down from generation to generation.  “I first came across the story of salt workers in a news magazine”, tells us Farida Pacha, with whom we had an interesting chat.This aroused my interest and I started making trips to the desert. I would stay each night with a different family because once you’re in this 5000 sq km barren landscape, a salt worker’s hut is the only shelter you can find. And when I met Chhanabhai by chance one night, I knew that I had found the protagonist of my film. Here was a man who was so meticulous, so demanding of himself and his family, so dedicated to making the best salt possible, even though he could barely make a living with what he earned”

Each member of the family makes his own task, even the children, that keep on attending school. Fatigue and contingencies are a daily affair, and it is fundamental to study techniques and timing not to waste the effort.

The work goes on with rudimentary tools

Chhanabhai, who had to apply for a loan to afford all the necessary for his work, with his family shall trample salt not to coagulate it and monitoring the long process of brine crystallization. For moths they work isolated, making dangerous jobs with rudimentary tools. Salt traders are impatient and their requests are often incompatible with a reality that only those who live in person can really know.

 “I want my film to be an experience”, continues the director, “for the duration of its 90 minutes a viewer experiences what it must be like to work and live in this harsh landscape. And if this experience stays with the viewer long after the film is over, as a filmmaker, I couldn’t ask for more”.

The whitest salt of the world, extracted in Thar Desert

The use of the camera is very effective, and it gives the audience authentic stories that talks about sacrifice and patient work, in a hostile and desert scenery.

The director explores these points: “I tried to find a style that could best convey both the beauty and the monotony of the family’s work and the desert in which they lived. In many ways their life and the landscape perfectly mirror each other. So the camera style is very austere and very still. The film has been shot mostly on a tripod with very few moving shots. The images are very carefully composed. I felt that I could not make a film about a perfectionist without somehow trying to emulate that perfection in the way the camera worked. And I chose an observational style without narration or interviews because it seemed to be the right approach. The work processes themselves are visually very clear and don’t need an explanation, and to interrupt them with questions while they were deeply engrossed in their work was somehow disturbing to me”.

When darkness falls, children return to sing, while adults are reckoning what they have made and what they have to made tomorrow. In such a precious salt -only for others so profitable- converge all their energies and all their identity.