Review: BOM - A Day Ahead of Democracy

There, in the distance, you see the really tall mountains that pierce the sky. And then you hear the narrator's voice, as he situates himself on a rocky path, where he can look at the scene and talk about Malana, a tiny Himachal village that time forgot. His journey into this tough-to-reach outpost is one of the finest documentaries I have seen in a while: Amlan Datta is in no hurry, he rambles, he stops, he talks to people, and starts again. And we get BOM, A Day Ahead Of Democracy.

That intriguing name stems from the fact that the villagers have been deeply isolated, and Datta rides along those who want to bring Malana into the fold: of electoral democracy, of election ID cards, of voting. And the other dubious joys of advancement and technology: roads and electricity are welcome, but when you get narcotics laws to operate in a place which has traditionally lived off its lush vegetation of cannabis plants, then you throw the whole ecosystem out of gear.
In the lined faces, many of them over a 100 years old, and lilting voices, Dutta builds a vivid picture of how people have lived through generations, in a self-contained universe, where local justice systems and other self -sustaining ways have been enough till now, when the young and the restless find themselves in urban chaos, where they try and make sense of their world and themselves.
Lovely shots of a toothless lady who has never seen a camera in her life, and other denizens of Malana, the conversations that centre around cannabis (and its multi-pronged uses: you smoke it, and make rope out of it, and slippers, and many other things), the fixed ideas of bureaucrats who are convinced they are doing the right thing, the local politicians who are sympathetic to the cause of the villagers, all come together in one seamless flow.
When democratic pedagogy, the way it is practised by the state machinery, reaches Malana, we see how the filmmaker has been careful not to take sides, though his heart is very clearly in the right place. Right in the beginning, he says he came in search of the best weed in the country and ended up confronting his destiny. And what he leaves us with are those troubling questions that go hand in hand with all 'development' and 'change': how much is too much ?
Shubhra Gupta, Indian Express, 23 Nov 2012
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