Docu “Drowned Out” makes an effective case for the plight of a quarter-million peasants who’ll be moved from ancestral homes by the massive, ongoing dam system being constructed along India’s Narmada River. First feature by Brit Franny Armstrong has a somewhat one-sided tone. Nonetheless, its involving look at clashing humanitarian, business and governmental needs should play well on pubcast and educational circuits.
Its foundation stone laid in 1961, the epic “mega-project” of successive large and small dams intends to provide electricity, irrigation and drinking water for millions, including drought- stricken regions. But outside analysts now suspect planning miscalculations will result in the poor benefiting far less than corporate agribiz and factories. Meanwhile, scores of villages continue to be “drowned,” submerged by new canals and reservoirs. Their self-sufficient, farming populations protest — nominal narrative focus here is on hamlet Jaisindhi, where healer Luhairya Sonkari leads resistance efforts — but their cries are ultimately dismissed by a government that’s already spent billions on the dams. Claims that those resettled will get plots of equal, fertile land elsewhere prove impossible to realize. Pic might have spelled out more clearly the alternative water-management strategies it alludes to.