Vivek H. Chaudhary (director)
Farming opium poppies gave a lower-caste mother social status and the financial means to educate her son. Their loving relationship is tested when the son leads an activist campaign against the corrupt Narcotics Bureau— which controls his mother’s opium farming license — and trouble starts.
Ever since Vardibai was a little girl working in her parents’ field, she loved to be around the beautiful white opium-poppy flowers. And over a lifetime of cultivating poppy, it became an inseparable part of her. Her family has farmed poppy for many generations. She is a legally licensed poppy farmer and a Dalit, the lowest caste in the Hindu caste system. The legal poppy farming is controlled by a corrupt Narcotics Department that forces farmers to black-market.
Over a lifetime of growing poppy, she has learnt the rules to navigate the corrupt government system that controls poppy. Farming opium-poppy gave her a place in the world and the financial means to educate her only son. With her efforts, her son Mangilal became the first person in their entire family to get an education. But seeing the oppression of the Narcotics Department he started activism against them. His activism angers the Narcotics Department, who hold the mother’s poppy farming license.
This puts their relationship in trouble. The son wants to stop the illegal trade by asking the officials to raise opium prices that are legally paid to farmers. The mother just wants him to stop the activism so that her poppy farming license is not under threat.
The film takes place over the course of a poppy season. We see the poppy lovingly sown, then blooming into beautiful white flowers. The flowers then fall away to form hard poppy pods that when punctured ooze out this dark red liquid. The changing seasons and stages of the poppy mirrors the way the mother son relationship develops with its highs and lows. The mother works in the field, mostly alone. As farmers fear retribution from the Narcotics Department, even her lower-caste Dalit community shuns her. We stay with her observing her. She sometimes turns and confides to the camera. The son goes from village to village convincing farmers to join his movement but progress is slow as the corruption also benefits farmers. The son is pained to see his mother in distress because of his activism but he is unable to compromise with the oppressive system.
The mother and son meet each other for a few hours, late in the night and early mornings. Their conversations and silences, slowly piled one on top of the other, give a sense of the world that they inhabit. This mother-son story, in a microcosm, reflects the question that is faced by 65,000 legal poppy farming families in India – should they reap the benefits of a broken system or try to mend it? But at what cost?
Vivek Chaudhary is a self-taught filmmaker from Ahmedabad, India and has been making documentaries for about 7 years now. He has a keen interest in films relating to human rights, mental health and women’s rights. I, Poppy is his first feature-length documentary. His mid-length documentary titled Goonga Pehelwan was a film based on India’s most successful differently-abled athlete Virender Singh and followed his quest to reach the Rio Olympics 2016.
He studied B. Com and then went on to do his Post Graduate Studies in Business Management from the University of Delhi. Being an avid documentary watcher, he was drawn to the medium as a maker and began his career with Goonga Pehelwan. The film went on to win the National Award for Best Debut Film of a Director in the Non-Features Category at the 62nd National Film Awards, 2015. The film also opened the Indian Panorama Section at the International Film Festival of India, Goa.