Cast: Villagers of Malana
Filmmaker: Amlan Datta
At the first glance, ‘BOM: One day ahead of democracy’ comes across as a systematic film that features the process of the evolution of a particular society along with the development of the maker’s conscience about a marginalised village, but very soon it turns into a debate about democracy and its existing forms.
‘Bom’ means void (‘Shunya’ in Hindi), but Amlan Datta makes it very clear in the beginning only that he is not talking about the emotional void as he appears to be deeply attached to the people and traditions of Malana, a place in Himachal Pradesh. Amlan doesn’t hide his emotions but his subjectivity remains confined to the villagers and their traditions as he has given ample time to all the significant parties to put up their arguments in favour or against the bone of contention.
The profiling of Malana begins the moment Amlan arrives to the village, unapologetically in search of hashish, but the natives have a different idea about the ‘holy weed’.
There are at least three parallel narratives in ‘Bom’. The first belongs to the production of cannabis which further gives rise to a moral and economical conflict between the people of Malana and the establishment (Which has a different representative at every level). Datta has interviewed politically influential people of Himachal Pradesh and some of them seem to be in favour of the yielding of cannabis, but that will be in opposition of the generalised faith.
The second and the most important sub-story showcases the system of law and justice enforcement in Malana which is the ideal form of democracy. Here people believe that the ultimate justice can be delivered only when everyone accepts it, unlike democracy where number has much more importance than acceptance.
The third premise hasn’t been given much screen space but is equally prominent in the story. How the villagers are suffering from the interventions of local administration forms the crux of the third layer.
Malana remains the connecting point of all the three branches of the narration.
The film’s research part is its strength. The time put in capturing the essence of the lifestyle of Malana over a long period pays back when the camera refuses to being voyeuristic, a trait commonly associated with the documentaries. It makes the filmmaker one of the villagers, he talks their language (not literally), and empathises with them when he sees something unwanted happening.
Powerful visuals keep the viewer glued to the screen and help him in getting a 360 degree view of the issues. Very few Indian documentaries concentrate so much on visual narrative; the camera captures the mystical world of Malana without digressing from the basic storyline.
The hills, clouds, folksongs, everything contributes to the theme which brings forth the confusions of a democracy. The grass under the feet rises, clouds cover the mountains and the god’s men talk in some alien language but what they convey presents doubts on the existing forms of governance.
Amlan befriends two young villagers and tells the story (They act like sutradhars) through them over several smoking up sessions. Personalised accounts by some charming, polite and ignorant elderly people display the grey shades of the nexus among contractors, local politicians and administration in the simplest manner possible.
‘Bom’ is very attacking in its commentary but that doesn’t make the filmmaker offensive, somehow he manages to restrict himself from going overboard.
The film is very talkative in its approach but that was probably necessary to keep the audience hooked up to a really long documentary of 2 hours.
Overall, ‘Bom: One day ahead of the democracy’ is a very important film as it desperately tries to seek a way to chop off the system of ombudsmen-ship from the Indian democracy.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.