An ill wind blows through the trailer of Nila Madhab Panda’s latest film, which stars Sanjay Mishra as a blind farmer battling debt, water shortage and climate change in rural Rajasthan.

Kadvi Hawa (Bitter Wind) follows Panda’s previous documentaries on the pressing subject of climate change. “How do you characterise wind into a story, how do you dramatise it and bring the emotions about? Those are the questions we have tried to answer in Kadvi Hawa,” Panda said. “The film is largely the emotional impact of climate change and what it does to you.”

Kadvi Hawa (2017).

Also starring Ranvir Shorey and Tilottama Shome, Kadvi Hawa will be released on November 24. Celebrated poet and lyricist Gulzar has recorded a poem on the subject for the film. Panda was hopeful that his movie’s theme will find resonance with audiences. “We never thought we would get this kind of a response,” he said. “Now I can connect the dots. Four to five years back probably, a film like Toilet Ek Prem Katha might not have made even 10 crores. But today, the film has made over 100 crores. So that means that there is a hunger for this kind of content.”

Gulza's poem Mausam Beghar Hone Lage Hai from Kadvi Hawa (2017).

Panda made his debut with the acclaimed I Am Kalam (2011), about an impoverished boy who aspires to become like Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam. The director has since made acclaimed socially themed films such as Jalpari (2012), which dealt with female foeticide, and Kaun Kitney Paani Mein (2015), a satire about water scarcity.

Kadvi Hawa, which won a Special Mention at the National Film Awards earlier in the year, is touted to be one of the first Hindi films to be themed around climate change. The movie also comes at a time when global leaders such as Donald Trump have played down or outright denied the effects of climate change on the environment. “That was the whole idea, that an old blind man who is 70 years old is giving an answer to Donald Trump,” Panda said. “The blind man does not even have a mobile phone, electricity or anything that contributes to the carbon footprint. But whereas I am responsible and we as a society are responsible for his plight.”

I am Kalam (2011).

Panda’s research involved location scouting in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and meetings with farmers and locals from these regions. While the movie has been inspired by real life incidents as well as from Panda’s previous explorations of the subject, it also contains an element of autobiography.

“Being from Orissa, I know that western Orissa has faced 30 years of drought, while coastal Orissa has been washed out by a flood or a cyclone every year,” Panda said. “But I wanted to take a much more serious approach to the story, which is why I set up the film in Chambol in Bundelkhand, which has been facing drought for eight years.”

Mishra’s character too is loosely based on the director’s visually impaired uncle. “My uncle was someone who has more knowledge about what is happening in the country than anybody else does,” Panda said. “Similarly I wanted a character who society thinks is useless, but is actually fighting climate change.”

While we do need films about the environment, it is important not to be didactic, Panda observed. “A preaching tone was the one thing the film has tried to stay away from,” he said. “We have brought the relevance of life into the characters in the film, with the effect of climate change. So we are not giving any solutions in the film. But by the end of watching the film, something hard will hit you.”

Nila Madhab Panda.