Film Review: ‘Bom Aka One Day Ahead of Democracy’

If there were to arise a movement campaigning for the legalisation of marijuana, it would find an unlikely champion in The Times of India, which startled readers a few weeks ago by running an article in favour of pot. It argued that marijuana should be disassociated with hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin as it’s a harmless intoxicant. Besides, it’s part of Hindu culture. It’s routinely consumed in north India, especially in the form of bhang during Holi (and by no less a deity than Shiva).
 
Amlan Datta’s National Award-winning documentary, Bom aka One Day Ahead of Democracy, which releases this Friday, November 23 through PVR Director’s Rare, makes a similar plea. Datta profiles Malana, a remote village in Himachal Pradesh that is believed to be the oldest republic in the world.

The community has a unique system of governance, its own language and gods. However it’s more famous for producing “Malana cream”, regarded as the best hashish in the world.
 
Bom, which is Sanskrit for “celestial void”, is a heartfelt film; it’s clear that Datta is fond of these people and deeply sympathetic towards their troubles. He visits the village several times over various seasons to shoot its unique form of governance, in which decisions are made by consensus, and interviews locals, including a few endearing centenarians. He befriends two brothers, who serve as Malana’s spokespersons in the film. Through them, we learn that the government’s crackdown on the drug trade has been disastrous for the village, where the chief industry is the manufacture and sale of hashish. If you’ve ever wondered why hashish is so expensive (prices in the city vary from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 5,000 a tola, which comes to 11.5 grams), you’ll see that making it is a tedious process. Villagers, even little kids, spend hours rubbing cannabis leaves between their palms to extract a dark resin, which they peal off their palms and roll into neat balls. The government’s attempts to get the residents of Malana to cultivate food crops instead of cannabis has failed because the plant is far more lucrative than peas and can be used to make various items such as ropes and shoes.
 
Even though the village chafes at the government’s interference in its age-old practices and, amusingly, considers its own form of governance far superior than the Parliament, it turns up to vote. Malana’s one hope of the State is that cannabis will be legalised and in this they have a champion in former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who tells Datta that he’s all for it. The only major drawback of Bom is that it’s far too long. There are too many long-winded, pot-fuelled conversations between Datta and the two brothers. Even though the film tests your patience, it’s worth watching for the glimpse it offers of this extraordinarily hermetic community.
 
Bom will be screened at PVR Phoenix Mills, Lower Parel at 5.45pm and PVR Oberoi Mall, Goregaon at 7.20pm.
 
Pronoti Datta, Mumbai Boss, 23 Nov 2012
 
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