“…real censorship in this country is no longer the censorship of the State. It is the censorship of the marketplace. Our films remain in the margins.”
The screening of noted filmmaker Anand Patwardhan’s Ram Ke Naam (In the Name of God) was persistently protested by the students’ wing of a political party at a recent people’s film festival in Ayodhya, more than two decades after it was documented. The filmmaker talks about the film, censorship of independent opinions and much more in an interview:
How relevant do you think is the film’s initial controversy today?
Twenty-one years ago, the film got a “U” certificate, a Filmfare Award and a National Award for Best Investigative Film. The Doordarshan showed the film following an order by the Bombay High Court who ruled that it was made in national interest. Yet there are groups that oppose it without seeing it. They are told it is “anti- Hindu”. But in fact, in the last 21 years, several karsevaks who had actually gone to demolish the Babri Mosque confessed after seeing the film that they felt ashamed for what they had done. They realised that the issue was not religious, but political and financial.
Ram Ke Naam does not oppose any religion. The voices of ordinary Hindus in and around Ayodhya are testimony to the fact that the communal virus in this country does not originate from the working majority but is largely injected by upper caste urban elements. These “leaders” generally get working class/caste people to do their dirty work, whether this is scavenging or participating in riots and looting. Ram Ke Naam interviews Pujari Laldas, head priest of the Ram Janma bhoomi/ Babri Masjid temple/ mosque who believed that Hindus and Muslims should both be allowed to pray at the site as they had done for centuries. Within a year of the Babri demolition, Pujari Laldas was murdered.
The film was incidentally completed in 1991, before the Babri demolition. It was a warning to the nation that communal forces were about to inflict a grievous wound on our secular fabric. The warning went unheeded. By that time the film reached TV, the damage had been done. The Babri Masjid had been demolished, thousands of people in the sub-continent killed and a chain reaction of religious hatred unleashed that continues to wreak havoc to the present day.
The Babri demolition has completed 20 years, why do you think no mainstream film has been made on the issue? Barring exceptions, I don’t have faith in mainstream Bollywood or for that matter Hollywood. They have the great advantage of mass reach but the very nature of the huge finances involved prevents political, social and cultural risk-taking. There is careful calculation and almost inevitable compromise. Sometimes when its heart is in the right place, a film can shift popular perceptions to a tiny degree but usually this happens only when the filmmakers believes their cause to be popular. So for instance, there may be some good films made against rape now but even here the chances are that the commercial instinct will send double messages while appearing to be pro-woman.
So the silence on Babri Masjid is not surprising. One sensitive fiction film that did touch this issue is Saeed Mirza’s Naseem though I won’t call it Bollywood and nor did it enjoy a big release. Incidentally when Saeed wanted to access TV footage of the attack on the mosque he could not find any, such had been the censorship. He ended up using sound clips fromRam Ke Naam.
Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam was in the news for slightly similar reasons.
I am against censorship, especially of the extra-constitutional variety. I will not talk of the content of Vishwaroopam as I have not seen the film, but the reviews of people I trust has me worried that the film indulges in stereotyping and sees the U.S. as an ally in the fight against terror. If this is true, I would still not call for censorship but I would find it problematic, because the U.S. is playing a deadly double game. They are both the authors of jihad and now the victims of it. Bin Laden was their creation. They fought a proxy war in Afghanistan where they preached Islamic jihad against communists. Have they ever apologised? Peace may come to our planet the day the powerful neo-con lobby in America genuinely reveals how it used religion to divide the world. And Islamic jihad may realise that not Islam, not the Quran, but their enemy number one is their actual father.
Most human beings are not bigoted by nature. They are victims of manipulation. Just as Ram Ke Naam was able to win over karsevaks. I am sure that even jihadis can be won over if they come into genuine and prolonged contact with those who believe in another idea of Islam. But if we merely practice revenge, judicial or otherwise, the cycle of violence will remain unbroken.
How has the film-making landscape changed since you made Ram Ke Naam? Are you freer today?
I continue to try and tell the truth as I see it. What is sad is that the real censorship in this country is no longer the censorship of the State. It is the censorship of the marketplace. Our films remain in the margins. Breaking out of this is the fight that must continue.