The Malana Maze

In the middle of a sprawling field in a hamlet in the remote hills of Himachal Pradesh, a little girl is crouched engagingly on a 41-year-old man's lap, gently rubbing a black paste-like substance against her palm. "Hey Sahni," says the man, "Are you making this for me?" The little girl nods shyly in agreement. On her palm is a small quantity of hashish, and she is sitting amid a field of cannabis in Malana — a remote village situated north-east of Kullu Valley, which is known for centuries to be a grower of hashish.

"It's the only thing she can sincerely offer," says Amlan Datta, the man mentioned in the scene above. The scene is from the indie filmmaker's National Award-winning documentary BOM, One Day Ahead of Democracy. With five years in the making and experiencing controversies, the film will finally have a PVR Pictures release on November 23 in Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and Bengaluru.

"To start with, the film is about democracy and there is seriously something wrong with ours," says Datta, who keeps shuttling between Kullu and Kolkata. Malana's indigenous community is arguably one of the oldest democracies in the world, with a bahumat (consensus) system in its "courts". "While I was at FTII–Pune, I heard some stories about this village — about Malana Cream as well as about its democracy — which drew me to the place." Datta went to Malana in March 2007 for the first time.

Through the two-hour-long BOM — a name derived from one of the elements that make up the universe, according to Indian philosophy ("Bom" stands for the celestial void) — Datta tells an engaging story of Malana, where seeping modernity and the activities of politicians have resulted in a slow disintegration. The story unfurls around the daily lives of villagers, their unwavering faith in their god, how they deal with authorities when it comes to the cannabis trade and how they stubbornly keep to their own understanding of living despite being backward.

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