What did the first outsiders with a moving camera thought of Malana— A review of documentary ‘Malana- A lost Identity’

Photo credits: Himanshu Khagta

Director: Arpana Katara Sharma,

Produced By: Public Service Broadcast Trust. Duration: 27 minutes.

Available at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07T4ZUnGYm4&t=1s

This documentary is perhaps one of the earliest works on documenting the village and the people of Malana- a remote village in Kullu district in Himachal Pradesh which is famous for its old ‘democratic’ traditions, their supposedly ‘Greek’ heritage and their ‘best’ quality hash.

The documentary starts off with a poem on freedom by Langston Hughes and the filmmakers seem to be putting up freedom as the central theme of the film.

Then we enter into this travel show kind of mode where the filmmakers show themselves entering the village while they throw innumerable adjectives describing its beauty and even use animation to tell the audience how to reach the village.

In its voice of god narration which dominates the film it goes on to explain the different ways how the freedom of the local population is curtailed for example, they are not allowed to mingle with outsiders, how their individual freedom is comprised as they are not allowed to settle outside, marry outside their community limiting their individual abilities.

These could be valid questions but these are not questions put up by the people themselves and it is only the filmmakers putting them and even answering them. In the entire film which is a commentary on Malana, only three local people are interviewed, a head priest, a forest guard and a representative of the local deity. The film is essentially an outsiders viewpoint on the culture and does not engage with the local people. It seems that the unique village with its problematic or not problematic traditions is viewed only through the outlook of the filmmakers who cannot or even try to look the traditions from the eyes of the local village and not through how they are used to look at the world outside.

Also there is also only one kind of freedom that is focused on; the freedom to mingle with the outside world. The freedom of women, freedom within homes, division of labour are not even touched upon. Only a Himachali or a person would know that even with its unique culture Malana is just as patriarchal like any other community, a viewer of the documentary will have to rely on her/his imagination for answers on the same.

The film devotes a lot of time on the myths believed by the people, their debatable origins only to establish their unique and exotic identity again and again hence to highlight the importance of the documentary and does not find enough time to at least talk to more people whom it keeps suggesting are not free.

It even goes on to describe outsiders as ‘untouchables’ at the hands of Malana people which is a problematic stance as firstly, it is not as the ‘outsiders’ do not believe and practice in untouchability and secondly, even if the villagers believe themselves to be superior the kind of ‘untouchability’ they practice is not the aggressive, violent and dehumanizing kind of segregation the outsiders practice.

The problem of low literacy levels are only seen as a result of the strict traditions of the village and not as a repercussion of the poor facilities provided by the State just as in the other surrounding areas.

In its form the film completely spoons feeds the viewer. The viewer only gets to the visuals of what the voice of god narrates. There is little scope of the viewer deciding for herself. Also the film wants to comment on to many aspects of the village but at the same time also be informational like an NCERT textbook on the uniqueness of the place and be like an adventure show talking about the wonders of this remote hamlet. It would have been better even if some of the things said by the narrator were actually said by a local voice.