Snooker Club Films | Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Against the Tide Review: Caught Between Tradition and Modernity

2023 Sundance Film Festival

4 mins read

Against the Tide
(India/France, 97 min.)
Dir. Sarvnik Kaur
Programme: World Cinema Documentary Competition (World Premiere)


Sarvnik Kaur’s Against the Tide is part anthropological study, part vérité drama. It follows the lives of friends and fisherman in India as the forces of nature and economics transform their way of life. The central focus is on Rakesh and Ganesh, two young men from the Koli community indigenous to Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Rakesh lives with his mother and wife, and the former is quite adamant that the traditions should be upheld each time he heads out to sea. Using a boat inherited from his late father, Rakesh fishes the shallow waters closer to home, using manual labour to gather an increasingly small catch.

Ganesh, meanwhile, has been abroad. He brings with him ideas of modernization and new technology. He has access to a much larger boat that can go to the deeper seas, trawling with massive nets that are gathered not simply with brute human strength but also with machines to assist with the catch. It’s a much larger affair, costlier to set out but with greater rewards if all goes well. It’s far from traditional, but it lets him compete on equal ground with the likes of the Chinese boats that head into the same international waters with high-capacity equipment to maximize their catch.

Thus sets up the obvious, allegorical divide between modern and traditional Indian customs, with all the challenges and contradictions contained within. This is a quiet, deliberate film, and while there are no particularly grand revelations, it’s clear that by focussing on these two individuals, a greater tale of a nation that has recently become the most populous in the history of our planet can be told.

It’s in the precision and specificity of the telling that gives the film much of its impact, and thanks to the editing prowess of Atanas Georgiev and Blagoja Nedelkovski who helped shape the much celebrated Honeyland, the story unfolds in an effective and engaging way. Kaur’s camera never succumbs to being showy, and yet it’s hard not to feel that at least some portions are slightly more staged than others are. Still, it’s clear that real moments are being captured without too much interference from those doing the capturing. A genuine sense of not the travails of these individuals and their milieu as well is captured in fine detail.

What Against the Tide lacks in bombast it makes up for its more pure reflection of life in Mumbai for these two individuals. Their travails are believable, their sacrifices and choices appear both commonplace and, in the context of their individual lives, the most important things ever. This balance between the individual and the larger context gives the film its quiet power. Thanks to its fine visuals, compelling characters and quiet yet certain direction, Against the Tide is a film that many will wish to dive into.


Against the Tide premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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