Filmmaker R.V. Ramani tells the writer about making “Hindustan Hamara”, a visual conversation between him and Anand Patwardhan

At Persistence Resistance film festival this year, R.V. Ramani’s “Hindustan Hamara” provided an unusual variation on the theme of collaborations. The film, which follows Anand Patwardhan across several film screenings, is a visual conversation between the two filmmakers.

“Why I am terming it a visual conversation is because it’s a visual practice engaging with another visual practice,” says Ramani, adding that the goals and starting points of the two are quite different. Patwardhan, who has been making films since the 1970s, is associated with the political documentary. His films, which include Prisoners of Conscience, Father, Son and Holy War, Bombay Our City, War and Peace and, most recently, Jai Bhim Comrade, have tackled, among other subjects, the Emergency, communalism, slum demolition, nuclear disarmament, and Dalit politics. Ramani’s films, which include My Camera and Tsunami, Nee Engey and Nee Yaar, are, on the other hand, deeply self-reflexive.

“He works with various social movements. His films are material for them to take up and strengthen themselves and strengthen the film...I don’t depend on any of those things. My entire engagement is very personal — what concerns me, what bothers me, what are my emotional needs and dilemmas at a given point in time. They are not driven by newspaper headlines,” says Ramani, adding that while Patwardhan works with polarities, he tries to diffuse them. “He will not hesitate in calling a devil a devil; I might look for other qualities in a devil.”

Ramani is fond of the spirit of Patwardhan, his commitment and his fierce independence, but at the same time critical, perhaps even jealous, of him. The film, for Ramani, was an attempt to reconcile these contradictory impulses. “ My motivation was to engage with the whole dilemma that I am facing…I wanted to go through a process with him where I do a film of my own which includes his filmmaking. It’s a kind of jugalbandi which I imposed on him,” he says. “I treat him with respect in that space. At the same time I am creating my own zones in that.”

The film’s approach, he points out, is similar to one he made earlier, on the writer Sundara Ramaswamy, titled Nee Yaar. “I hadn’t read anything of his, but I told him ‘I want to make a film on you because I like you, and I want to understand why I like you’.”

Ramani first approached Patwardhan in 2003, after a screening of War and Peace. “After that screening I felt like making a film on him. So I told him. His immediate response was no. So I let it be...” Roughly five years later, Ramani picked up the thread again, and filmed him at a festival in Madurai, and at several other screenings subsequently. Over time, the self-effacing Patwardhan too warmed to the presence of the director and was open to the idea of the screenings being filmed. In a sequence shot on a journey from Palakkad to Thrissur, he lets go of all his defences, and, in an unexpected gesture, takes the director into confidence about why he makes his films, and about having wanted to film his family.

Ramani is not interested in parading information about the filmmaker’s works, or in the vectors of a straightforward biography; his film is rather a look at the world of Patwardhan’s films, the spaces where they are screened, and what they say about the filmmaker. His attention is focused on the rituals of Patwardhan’s film screenings — moments before the screenings (the songs he plays prior to each screening, his instructions to the audience), and the agreements and disagreements after the curtains have fallen. The film derives its name from a song Patwardhan often plays before screenings – “Hindustan Hamara” from Phir Wohi Subah, sung by Mukesh.

After having completed the film, a strange calm has descended on Ramani. “Something became relaxed at the end of it for me with him. I think he also senses it. In spite of the fact that he is upset that the film is made — in an outer way — deep inside, he is relaxed with me right now.”