Through the viewfinder
As one who highlights issues through his documentaries, Anand Patwardhan is no stranger to controversy. His latest film "War and Peace" on the nuclear race has won awards at the recent Mumbai International Film Festival. RONITA TORCATO finds out what makes the film-maker tick.
Anand Patwardhan receiving the award for best film/video from Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander.
ANAND PATWARDHAN is a double graduate in Sociology, English and Communications. He has worked in rural development projects and has been active in the fight for civil liberties, housing rights, movements for communal harmony and for a just and sustainable world. He has guest lectured at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, International Escuda de Cine Year TV, Cuba; and several universities in Canada, including Concordia and Kingston (Queens). Patwardhan has made several prize-winning films.
His latest film, "War and Peace" on the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan and the efforts of individuals and peace groups in the two countries won the Best Film and the International Jury award at the recently concluded Mumbai International Film Festival of Documentary and Video Films better known as Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) 2002.
RONITA TORCATO: At the outset let me congratulate you on winning the two top awards at MIFF 02. How did you feel when you first got to know that you'd bagged not just one but two important awards?
ANAND PATWARDHAN: It felt great of course, but I had already begun to feel great at the two MIFF 2002 public screenings. Not only was it house full both times but the audience seemed to get fully involved with the film and we got an amazing response at the end. I had been worried that my critique of jingoism would make some people upset but this did not happen and people seemed to understand the logic of the film better that I had hoped.
Do you plan to take the film to neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh?
I will go with it wherever I am invited because I think this film needs to be seen in many parts of the world but most urgently, in the Indian sub-continent.
Documentaries are usually of short duration. "War and Peace" is almost three hours. Did you feel you had a lot to say/ show which required a longer timeframe?
Yes. Cutting it shorter would have meant reducing the argument or reducing the evidence that supports the argument.
The name of your film is the same as the Tolstoy book. Was this deliberate?
No, "War and Peace" is not a direct reference to Tolstoy, just an appropriate title to the film I was making. So it was more of a coincidence.
You've captured some wonderful footage in the film. Did you have any problems shooting in Pakistan or closer home?
Shooting in Pakistan was done without official permission. I just took my small camera over the border when I went with the peace group and recorded whatever transpired. Pakistani friends in the peace movement were helpful in setting up interviews I wanted to do there.
Doordarshan has been refusing to screen your documentaries on the national network. Please comment.
DD is sadly far from being the independent autonomous body it claims to be, Prasar Bharti notwithstanding. It has always acted as a crude instrument of State propaganda. It cannot tolerate truth or criticism, and hence it is not an instrument of democracy. So far I have had my films shown on DD only after the court ordered them to do so but despite four court cases that I have won, DD has not changed its attitude.
Would you like to talk about the cancellation of screenings of your film at the American Museum of Natural History in the wake of a protest by a certain lobby?
That is an unfortunate story in that the natural history museum gave in to Hindutva pressure and postponed the screening of my film "Ram ke Naam" which had won a National Award and the Filmfare award in India as well had been shown at prime time on DD 1, after the court ordered this. However, people in the United States (thousands of Indians) have sent letters of protest to the museum and so the matter is still very much alive. Truth is, the more people try and suppress these films, the more they build up the interest in the films.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) alleges that your film "In the Name of God'' has been motivated by a Marxist agenda.
That is hilarious. Most Marxists would not describe me as one because I have always been mixed up between Marx and Gandhi and see that the way forward is a combination of ideas and not a single ideology.
In any case I do not consider "Marxism" to be a bad word, although it is a limiting factor and so I prefer not to be labelled.
I like to think everything out with as fresh a mind as possible.
You have also been accused by the VHP of misrepresenting Ram as an Aryan who enslaved the Dravidians. The VHP further contends that your film tends to create artificial divisions on racial lines.
They are referring to the five-minute music video I made called "we are not your monkeys" which picturised a song written by three people, Daya Pawar, Sambhaji Bhagat and myself. In this song, we have used ideas that have been circulating in Dalit circles and among scholars for a long time. Incidentally, if you look at Hindutva literature of the past they were always proud to claim their "Aryan" heritage. It is only in recent times when Dalits and Adivasis have countered this by asserting that "we were here first" that Hindutva has suddenly backtracked and no longer claim that they are of Aryan (white) origin.
The VHP further alleges that you have "distorted" Indian history and blamed a large section of Hindus for destruction of the Babri "structure" which, the VHP maintains was "not even a mosque by Muslim standards." Their contention however ignores the fact that Islam permits the "cleansing" of a place of worship that has been "defiled". Please comment.
Another old and tried story. I have shown Hindu fanatics but I have also spent considerable time highlighting Hindus who opposed the demolition of the mosque. Prominent among these was pujari Laldas, the Hindu priest of the Ramjanmabhoomi site. He was later killed for his outspoken criticism of Hindutva. How come the VHP wants everyone to forget that such Hindus exist?
Are you optimistic of peace between India and Pakistan in the near future?
Yes, because war means total annihilation on both sides and all sane people must and will oppose the outbreak of war.
It's obvious from "War and Peace" that you are a pacifist who is against the nuclear arms race. What about self defence? And the notion of a just war? What is your opinion of pacifism?
I think that nuclear weapons have made India far more insecure than before. Not only has defence spending increased tremendously, but there has also been no gain in security. The Kargil war is proof of that. The only security is to build a lasting friendship. For this, we need politicians who are not corrupt and politicians who are not psychotic on both sides of the border. If this is not immediately possible, we need people to be aware and who will not let the politicians get away with hate-mongering.
What next? Could you elaborate on some upcoming projects?
I will show this film widely before beginning work on another.
"Prisoners of Conscience" (1978, 45 mins, B&W) On political prisoners in India before, during and after the State of Emergency in 1975-77. "A Time to Rise" (1981, 40 mins, Colour) On the efforts of Indian immigrant farmworkers in Canada to unionise
"Bombay our City" (1985, 82 mins, Colour) A film on the daily battle for survival of Bombay's slum dwellers.
"Narmada Diary" picturises a people's movement.
"In Memory of Friends" (1990, 60 mins, Colour) A film about the efforts of a group of Sikhs and Hindus to rebuild communal harmony in strife-hit Punjab
"In the Name of God" (Ram ke Naam) (1992, 90 mins, Colour) On the rise of Hindu fundamentalism as reflected in the Ram Janmabhoomi temple/Babri Masjid conflict in Ayodhya which led to nation wide carnage.
"Father Son and Holy War" (Pitra, Putra aur Dharma Yuddha) (1994, 120 mins, Colour) On the relation between religion, violence and male identity.
"Narmada Diary" (1995, 50 mins, Colour-Video): Film co-directed with Simantini Dhuru on the battle between the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement, an anti-dam movement in Western India) led by Medha Patkar and others.
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