WHO is he?

Indian documentary filmmaker, writer and activist who has made 11 feature films since the Seventies. Almost all of Patwardhan’s films have run into politically-influenced censorship controversies and he has had to go to court continually to let them be screened in their original form. Patwardhan has won seven National Awards till date and had a retrospective at the British Film Institute earlier this year.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Patwardhan’s films are deeply tied to contemporary national and international issues. Although these works consistently deal with the here and the now — political imprisonment during the Emergency, rise of Sikh fundamentalism in Punjab, the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the Save Narmada Movement, the nuclear arms race post-Pokhran and casteist killings in Mumbai — there is also an analytical strain to them that weaves concrete socio-cultural facts into sustained cultural criticism. They explore incisively, for instance, how nationalist, religious and capitalist iconography work in synergy to conflate the idea of masculinity with armament and belligerence.

Style

Patwardhan’s films are shot in a direct, cinema-vérité fashion with a handheld camera that subordinates stylisation to functionality. Though they are full of conceptual contrasts reminiscent of Soviet Intellectual Montage, Patwardhan seldom cuts abruptly from one shot to another to establish a forceful counterpoint, and instead gleans for pointing ironies within the space of the scene by simply panning his camera. Almost all his films contain voiceovers spoken by Patwardhan himself and direct interviews with the participants.

WHY is he of interest?

Arguably the most famous documentary filmmaker from India, Patwardhan is a pre-eminent chronicler of life and times in the country. His humanist approach to his material breaks the parochial and often vulgar view that documentaries should be neutral and non-partisan. They are voices of reason in an atmosphere dominated by misguided cries of glory and celebration.

WHERE to discover him?

War And Peace (2002) is a sprawling, timely and heart-wrenching critique of the India-Pakistan nuclear arms race from a humanist perspective that spans several geographies and historical timelines. Marked by a keen understanding of the functioning of the military-industrial complex and curious camerawork rife with ironical details and improvisational metaphors, the film traces the nation’s drastic ideological shift from Gandhianism to Nuclear Nationalism and the human cost of this deadly transition.

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