Give up, they shall not

Published: Tuesday 31 January 2006

The Bitter Drink directed and produced by P Baburaj and C Saratchandran 26 minutes

A police contingent standing guard outside the Coca Cola factory in Plachimada in Kerala's Perumatty panchayat while protesters march past raising slogans against the Cola giant is one of the lingering shots of this film under review. It's an apt cinematic metaphor to depict the marginalised ranged against the power of the state-backed transnational.

In 2000, people in Plachimada were quite excited to know that Coca-Cola was setting up a factory in their sleepy hamlet. Among other bounties, the factory promised jobs. Within a few months after the factory was set up, the dreams had turned sour. The jobs went to people from the neighbouring districts. And worse still, the plant played havoc with the area's groundwater, guzzling up thousands of litres every day. The quality of the water also deteriorated.

"Rice cooked in this water goes bad very soon," says one protagonist in the film. Such in-your-face statements give The Bitter Drink its documentary value. It's about shared anger and anguish. It's also about the determination of the people of Plachimada to not give up in face of terrible odds. They have little support from mainstream political parties, the media rarely gives them any attention and even the labour unions aren't too keen to take up their cause. But in P Baburaj and C Saratchandran, the film's directors, they have ardent supporters. The Coke-hit villagers appear on screen to present their case. Says a villager, Swaminathan, "Till the plant was constructed, we did not have any problem with the water. But now we have to make do with water of terrible quality." Laments Ambika, a leader of the anti-Coke struggle, "There are many wells here but the water here is virtually undrinkable. So, we have to walk kilometres to get fresh water."

Ambika had to face the rough end of police action against the protesters. She says, "Once when were on a dharna, 240 of us were arrested and roughed up in the police station." Neelkanthan another activist says, "The local police is completely with the Coca Cola company."

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