Baliapal. A village somewhere in the middle of the Orissa and the West Bengal border. Most people wouldn’t even know this place existed were it not for the decades-long agitation. In July 1985, Janaki Bhalab Pattnaik, the then Cheif Minister of Orissa, announced that Baliapal and its surrounding regions were to be turned to a test range for missiles. Voices from Baliapal is a 1988 documentary aiming to cover both sides of the story.
At first glance, the protest seems simple. The people of Baliapal are highly religious and believe their homeland to be “The Land of Gold”. This attachment is understandable, and the reasons they cite are probable as well. Over 70,000 people would lose their homes, their means of livelihood, and more than anything, they would lose the land they have worshipped for decades.
Most of these people have never stepped outside the confines of Baliapal. They have everything they need. Food and water, ample sources of livelihood owing to the fertile land and the Bay of Bengal rich with aquatic life, friends and family, and other ways to keep themselves entertained. And so it is but obvious that they wouldn’t take getting evicted too kindly. For these peace-loving people to see their revered motherland turn into a missile range is not easy.
Voices from Baliapla make sure to include almost all of the kinds of people that reside in Baliapal, from leaders of the movement to fishermen that seem quite clueless. Although the leaders speak with fervour, the fishermen and the farmers seem agitated, to say the least. As the film progresses, you realize, things really aren’t as straightforward as they had seemed initially.
Although this had been indicated within the first few minutes itself, you slowly start to realize that the famed Indian politics has played its dirty game again. The initial sentiment behind the protest had been pure and was born out of the population’s direct love for their motherland.
But, opposition parties had struck gold at the moment, and started to radicalize people. The result was a mix of the right intentions being backed by propaganda. The interviews by the local population suggested a lack of knowledge about what exactly was to be built once the land was finally free. However, there were people who presented rational suggestions based on logical facts. They requested the government to use barren and uninhabited land to construct these testing grounds. Since it is a democracy, and every voice counts, surely 70,000 voices were enough to sway the government, right?
Voices from Baliapal: Final Verdict
Voices from Baliapal is exactly what a documentary should be. It deals with real people and a real story, that continues to this day. You can go into it with virtually no information about the agitation, and come out knowing everything there is to it. One of the best parts about this documentary is that it remains neutral throughout its 41 minutes run time. The film does this by switching between personal and group interviews of the local population, newspaper clippings, opposition party interviews, and those with the leaders of the movement.
Moreover, Voices from Baliapal lets you create an informed opinion about the movement and its repercussions. It doesn’t pronounce a judgment and instead opts to educate the views in the best way possible. A great idea about an important cause, and even better execution. This one is an absolute must-watch. Stream in now on YouTube.
For more information about the Baliapal Movement, check out this link.