Film Education

The Documentary Goonj and Interview with the filmmaker Adhiraj Bose

Goonj Poster 2


A documentary featuring Naseeruddin Shah as an integral voice in the film along with other interesting characters and experts explores the issues revolving around the illegal cultivation of cannabis (the biological name for the derivative plant for charas or marijuana) in the Himachal Pradesh state of India.

A large section of people feel that cannabis, the holy weed, should be legalized for a number of reasons. ‘Goonj’ goes into the depth of the layers involved in the decision of legalization and cultivation of this weed.

The filmmaker in action in Kullu

The filmmaker in action in Kullu

It was a great joy to see this documentary by Adhiraj Bose who was part of my film appreciation family a few years ago. He is indeed a talented young filmmaker and it is my pleasure to share his documentary with you (entire film link enclosed at the end of this interview) and my interview with the young man.

1. How would you describe yourself?

I guess I’d have to say that I’m an aspiring director who is looking out to someday make the films I love and tell the stories I want to tell. But having said that, there’s a long journey before that where I just want to learn and gather as much knowledge as possible by working and observing.

2. What was the germ of the idea for this documentary and why this subject?

The idea was to make a documentary about a contemporary issue in a particular state in India which many people may not know about in depth.

This subject was extremely intriguing since the plant ‘cannabis’, the cultivation of which is illegal in India because is considered synonymous to drugs like charas and marijuana, in fact had several interesting dimensions to it. As we read and researched more about it, we felt the compelling need to dig further into the subject.

3. The biggest challenge in making it?

There were a few. But I guess the most crucial ones were getting people to speak freely about a taboo topic like this, and the locations that we had to reach out to for shooting (like the secluded Malana village in the Himalayan region).

The team trekking upto the Malana village

The team trekking up-to the Malana village

4. How was your project funded?

It was completely out of our own pockets. There were primarily 10 of us working on it and each one of us contributed equally to the total budget.

5. How do you plan to reach out with your film, who is your key audience?

This film’s primary motive is awareness. It’s an educative approach towards something that’s considered either recreational or illegal by the respective sections of people. So our target audience is nearly everyone in India or beyond. People who are either interested or talk or hear about the legalization of cannabis and and want to know the deep rooted issues involved.

6. Is there a similarity between documentary and fiction, do you feel the lines meet?

Yes I do feel there are similarities. Several, starting from the same 3 stages of pre-production, production and post production in both fiction and documentary while making them, to the same primary motive of both to provide your audience with something relevant that they would be interested in sitting through, and may be even revisiting.

One of the similarities as far as the making is concerned that I find most interesting is that, just like there is the crucial step of casting involved in a fiction film, similarly a documentary also involves a different kind of casting. It involves the key people that you really need in your documentary because of the credible knowledge they have.

7. What has your experience working with directors like Vishal Bhardwaj taught you as a filmmaker?

Well there’s something new you learn from every individual if you want to. Vishal sir has produced the first film I worked on and directed the songs in it. He also co-wrote the film. So there’s a new perspective you observe and lessons in hard work and perseverance you gain from someone who has been there and proved himself time and again.

8. What next?

If I don’t do a Post Graduate course in Film Direction or Screenwriting, then probably I’ll be working on a few more films in order to observe and learn as much as I can before I make my own.


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Lovely, like Naseer saab said, Norway has made it legal, and Singapore imposes death penalty. We in India should take a path somewhere in the middle, taking our people along, because that is what matters most, and avoid being extreme. I think its time for the thought to be translated to its deserving actions.

Comment by Singhal Louis

Hello Singhal.
Yes you are right. It’s time to take some actions. Although India already is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes like Naseer sir said. It’s important to get rid of the crime angle to it first and the Government is trying that by removing the entire cannabis angle altogether.
Thank you for your feedback.

Comment by Adhiraj Bose

I am sorry, I don’t understand. How would it be middle ground if abolishing cannabis is the agenda? In any case, everyone involved, pro or against, has been unanimous in stating that the narcotic side of the plant is less addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, so where is defining point in this conclusion. The scientists have concluded that the good far outweigh the bad in terms of the benefits from this plant. I think its a bunch of half baked philosophies that is driving this witch hunt. We need much more matured individuals to handle this and create a healthy eco system rather than act talibanisque. I hope I am not over exaggerating because that is not my intention. Thank you for presenting this topic in a very good way, with equal footage from both ends of the spectrum. Regards,

Comment by Singhal Louis

It’s not legal in Norway- maybe you refer to Holland/Netherlands ?
Were interesting documentary!

Comment by Noliw

Thanks for the movie and the interview as well. Enjoyed watching it and really gives good perspective on both sides of the debate. A couple of points…although I am no expert at this. There is a claim that cannabis is less addictive than cigarettes or alchohol. However, I think the stigma attached to it may be more due to the intensity of its effects on your senses when you do have it (as compared to alchohol or cigarettes).

A couple of points for the film maker. While I really appreciated the fact that all sides of the debate were shown, I felt sometimes there was a need to highlight with other cues (maybe music or otherwise) when a certain side is shown. In the absence of that, I felt the overall narrative gets juggled around abruptly. That being said, it was definitely eye-opening and does convey the point that it is not a black-and-white issue here. A lot of effort goes into making something like this and I hope it reaches the right audiences and has its intended impact.

As technology matures and the world becomes increasingly connected, we are going to be faced with many questions that challenge our very core beliefs and notions (think about advances in medical technology, etc.) . In such cases, it is films like this, which attempt to show us reality as closely as possible, that keep us grounded and not let us be swayed easily by popular notions.

Comment by Jayesh Kapoor

Hello Jayesh.
Thank you so much for that feedback.
I agree to the things you have said.
They surely help us gain perspective for the next film we’ll make.
Thanks again.

Comment by Adhiraj Bose

I am afraid I don’t have very kind words for this documentary. I suspect it is a case of very poor research. Naseerudin Shah has been used just as a prop.

Anyone interested in the topic of cannabis/hemp/marijuana should watch a recent documentary, “Weed” by Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN, “Running from the Cure” by Rick Simpson of Canada and many others about the history of hemp available on Youtube. Couple of these by David Suzuki on CBC’s Nature of Things are notable. Watch interviews of Dr. Julie Holland (Editor/Author of “The Pot Book”) and Dr. Lester Grinspoon, Psychiatrist among others.

If you read and watch these then you will realize that there is no middle ground between good and evil. We have to dig our heals on the side of the good and fight the evil to the bitter end. Hemp/Cannabis (Marijuana is a derogatory word used since 1930s in USA smacking of racism against Mexican immigrants) should be revered the same way as the Peepal (Banyan tree) and Tulsi (Basil) plant. The criminalization and prohibition against it should be defied in the same way as Gandhi’s salt satyagrah. Denying access to this plant is a crime against humanity when you see how it could save lives of many cancer patients and alleviate sufferings from almost any and every debilitating disease such as MS, cancer, HIV/AIDS and Fibromyalgia, to name just a few.

I have not researched it but I have a hunch this was the Sanjivini Booti that Lord Hanuman brought to save a critically wounded Laxman. Alexander, the Greek emperor used it to treat his wounded soldiers during his conquests. This plant is the victim of many conspiracies – Christian Church which demonized it while glorifying wine; British empire which had to put it down to promote scotch whisky; Big Pharma who would gain nothing from a generic plant unless they could patent its sub-constituents; Dupont which promoted nylon as opposed to strong hemp fibre for parachute ropes and textiles; timber lobby for making paper from wood pulp in place of hemp fibre. Last, but not the least, Big Oil promoting fossil fuels in place of hemp oil. Monsentos of the world are flooding us with toxic GMOs.

And this is not just about the only conspiracy. I have compiled a list of books and videos on my blog although it is primarily about health and nutrition.

But the tide is changing and all it needs is a real Gandhian like Vandana Shiva or Shiv Chopra (formerly of Health Canada) to rise to the occassion and lead the charge.

All in all, Goonj is a wasted effort due to lack of proper research on the topic before embarking on the project to make a documentary on the topic. A properly researched documentary would stand on its own feet and would not need crutches of celebrity props.

Sorry Adhiraj if I sound uncharitable towards your noble intentions. Those are commendable. But remember the old adage – there is no short cut to success.

Comment by Shailendra K. Chaudhary

Very nice

Comment by Kalsi

Thanks for your interest

Comment by oorvazi

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