On September 16, the Central Board of Film Certification decided that a film by independent filmmaker Jharna Jhaveri, titled Charlie and the Coca Cola Company, was unfit for public viewing. The Board told Jhaveri that her film did not qualify as educational, and instead, was “misleading” and appeared to be politically motivated.
Jhaveri, who founded Janmadhyam Productions with Anurag Singh in 1992, had worked on the film about Coca Cola’s plants for over six years. The 150 minute-long documentary explores the ways in which the cola giant has allegedly destroyed all means for subsistence for farmers near two of its bottling plants in Mehediganj, near Varanasi. Jhaveri has since posted half of the documentary on YouTube.
Coca-Cola’s tube wells allegedly siphon off close to 2.5 million of litres of drinking water a day, which has resulted in a sharp fall in ground water levels and has led to wells drying up. In the past, the company has also been charged with releasing toxic effluents into the fields and water bodies of Mehediganj, which has further destroyed local crops.
A survey by the Central Pollution Control Board found that Coca-Cola bottling plants have unacceptably high levels of cadmium, lead and chromium, and that sludge from the Mehdiganj plant should ideally be categorised as hazardous industrial waste stored in lined, concrete landfills specifically designed for this purpose.
In Charlie and the Coca Cola Factory, farmers tell Jhaveri’s crew about all of this and more – the company has allegedly encroached on government land, and it is claimed, intimidates local dissenters.
“The film exposes the politics of privatisation of water,” Jhaveri told Scroll.in. “None of this is a fact sheet, it is meant to make the viewer think about the injustice, the violence committed by all of us who choose to ignore it”.
Coca-Cola has denied all the charges. Jhaveri claimed that the company has been harassing her ever since representatives found out about her work in Mehediganj. “There’s no legal notice of course, but they have found other ways to try and stop us,” she said.
Jhaveri has explored a diverse range of subjects, all with the underlying theme of social justice, such as Kaise Jeebo Re, a film about displaced tribals in the Narmada valley, Unheard Voices, on rickshaw pullers in Mussourie, and One Night in Delhi: The Making of a Police State on the capital’s vast system of profiling and surveillance.
“We are most certainly not giving up,” Jhaveri said. “You can watch the film on the web, and we will continue to fight for its release.”