Malana: The story of the politics of hashish

Oct 14, 2011, 09:58 IST | Aviva Dharmaraj

In One Day Ahead of Democracy, filmmaker Amlan Datta and his crew study the implications of modernisation on a remote village in the Himalayas where quality cannabis grows in abundance

In One Day Ahead of Democracy, filmmaker Amlan Datta and his crew study the implications of modernisation on a remote village in the Himalayas where quality cannabis grows in abundance

For cinematographer Amlan Datta, the director of Bom/ One Day Ahead of Democracy, the village of Malana situated in the Himalayas was the equivalent of discovering a lost world. Its people had been insulated from outside influence for thousands of years. Outsiders were in fact dissuaded from entering the village and warned by locals that those, who went inside, mysteriously disappeared. Though fearful, Datta was still intrigued.

For director Amlan Datta, the making of the film has been the
equivalent of going on a spiritual journey

Defining himself as "a filmmaker in search of virgin images with two imaging devices - one modern video camera and one century old view camera", Datta headed to Malana. The cannabis plant grows in abundance in this Himalayan village, where its use is integral to village life.

Villagers use the plant for purposes ranging from medicinal to functional. But it is not until the seventies that they are made aware of the prized value of the crop in the international market. Foreigners show them the process to "rub the cream", so that they can obtain the cleaner and more potent hashish suitable for trade.

Malana cream becomes a well-known name and soon every household in Malana is engaged in hashish production. Villagers start to earn money, but are not yet fully aware of its value in the age of consumerism.

Since trust plays a key role in everyday exchanges and
transactions, it is believed that the people of Malana never
felt the need for formal education, as the given word was
taken for granted.

The Indian government starts to take notice of a backward tribe engaged in 'criminal activity' as per state laws. Malana is made part of the national electorate, and thus, according to Datta the "invasion begins".

Soon, the government starts to build a series of dams, tunnels, the village is pumped with electricity in the bid to make it more "modern". Every family aspires for a TV, mobile phone and satellite dish. Politicians soon enter the arena with their enticing promises and fake guarantees, and a thus-far peaceful people fall prey to the spoils of consumerism.

In his Director's note, Datta assures, "Everything in this film is real; no staging, no enactment, no re-creation. No external music either. Reality itself forms the grand narrative. Not a direct cause and effect or an action-reaction synthesis of the western drama. But an oriental epic structure where often the sub-plots, sub-characters take the story forward. Underneath the surface of on-screen drama the film reflects a silent story of change."

Datta has said that he felt privileged to be able to record a civilization on the cusp of change and has felt tied to the plight of its people. He reiterates that hashish remains the villagers only means to earn some money.

Post the devastation of the 2008 fire, which caused several homes to be burned down, forcing the rebuilding of several lives; the value of money is only heightened. The 40-year-old director hopes that the government will make special sanctions for the people of Malana, who along with their sovereignty have lost their means to a livelihood.

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The remote village of Malana is located in the Himalayas, and lay insulated from outside civilizations for thousands of years. Legend has it that the people of Malana are descendants of deported Greek soldiers of Alexander the Great. Others, however, believe that their roots can be traced to Hindu mythology.

A village council with an upper and a lower house -- similar to the parliament of India � governs them. Council members are chosen through a process of unanimous selection. The court resolves internal disputes.

Quality hashish grows in abundance here. But it was not until the seventies that foreigners taught the villagers how to make money off the crop in the international market.

Soon, every household was involved in hashish production. The Indian government took notice of a hidden backward tribe who, as per the law, were into criminal activity. The 'outlaws' were to be brought under the rule of our democracy and Malana became part of our national electorate.

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