Documentary channel

National Geographic’s ‘One Strange Rock’ goes to space to learn about the miracle of life on Earth

The 10-episode documentary series, executive produced by Darren Aronofsky, will be premiered on March 26.

“I’m going to tell you about the most incredible place,” says host Will Smith. “It might be the weirdest place in the whole universe...and you know what? You’re walking on it.”

So begins a riveting cinematic journey into the bedrock of human existence we all call home: Earth.

Like many documentaries before it, National Geographic’s One Strange Rock explores the wonders of the blue planet and how it has sustained itself and millions of species over billions of ears. But the 10-episode series takes this journey a giant leap ahead – it explores the inner workings of Earth from the perspective the few human beings who have ventured outside of it, astronauts.

From this vantage point, the show, co-produced by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and media executive Jane Root, spans 45 countries and six continents to highlight lesser-known facts about the minute and interconnected phenomena that have made life possible on our planet. The series, produced by Nutopia and Protozoa Pictures for National Geographic, will be premiered on Monday at 9pm.

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One Strange Rock.

The first episode, Gasp, hosted by Smith and astronaut Chris Hadfield, takes off from the most basic, universal and instinctive unit of existence – breathing.

The presence of oxygen is what makes Earth unique in its ability to host a wide variety of life. To understand how this vast repository of sustenance came into being, the episode takes viewers on a fascinating journey spanning Dallol in Ethiopia, Danakil in East Africa, the Amazon rain forest in Brazil and Svalbard in Norway, among other places. The camera aids this thrilling ride as it hovers above Earth one moment and plunges into the depths of the ocean the next.

This expansive voyage reveals that we all owe our existence to a microscopic organism: a diatom. These photosynthetic microalgae, present in almost all water bodies, are key to keeping the oxygen in circulation on the planet. It is because of these diatoms that a salt desert in Danakil has life-giving dust that fertilises plants in the Amazon, which in turn convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.

The series has been presented by Hadfield and features interviews with seven other astronauts: Jeff Hoffman, Mae Jemison, Jerry Linenger, Mike Massimino, Leland Melvin, Nicole Stott and Peggy Whitson.

Some of the best moments of the show come when these astronauts describe how life-giving phenomena are observed from outer space. They describe seeing the storms blowing dust from Africa to Brazil and the river of life flowing over the Amazon. Most fascinating is the revelation that the impact of diatoms, which cannot be seen by the naked eye, can be observed from space, in the form of a patch in the ocean that is a starkly different shade of blue-green.

One Strange Rock is a virtual as well as a cerebral delight. With the help of dexterous camerawork, the show offers viewers both a bird’s eye view of the workings of Earth and an intimate look of the granular details: we see the planet from the International Space Station thousands of miles away and zoom into microscopic phenomena, such as a flower blooming, a water droplet forming on a leaf and a speck of dust landing on the ground.

Through mind-boggling scientific facts, the show drives home a message that is decidedly spiritual: about the interconnectedness of every creature on Earth, about humankind’s place in it as just one aspect of a staggering chain, and about the perfect and delicate balance that makes our existence possible.

Actor Will Smith co-hosts One Strange Rock. Image credit: National Geographic.
Actor Will Smith co-hosts One Strange Rock. Image credit: National Geographic.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.