FILMS Documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan says he makes films without hoping to change the world. VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED
A nand Patwardhan is one of India's earliest documentary film makers and has faithfully worked at this task for close to 40 years since his student days in the early 1970s. Almost all of his 15 films have won National awards while forming a tumultuous visual archive of India and are grim reminders that all is not well with the nation state. His films clearly display his commitment to a broadly left-liberal agenda with a concern for the working classes.
“In a country like ours that is so class divided, films like mine provide a perspective from the other side,” he said. Thematically, Patwardhan's films have been versatile and there is a consistent commitment to giving voice to people, who otherwise, would not be represented in mainstream media.
He has been a filmic chronicler of the subaltern voice, a question which social scientists in India began dabbling with during the 1970s. His early films, ‘Waves of Revolution' (1975) and ‘Prisoners of Conscience' (1978), are rare gems, not only because of their uniqueness, but also because of their perspectives on the failure of the democratic movement in India.
An impish bravado has also accompanied his filmmaking right from the start. (He smuggled out cut strips of ‘Waves of Revolution' through anyone who was going abroad during the Emergency and then put it all together when he went to Canada). It is difficult to associate bravado and tenacity with the amiable and pleasant Patwardhan but you cannot help it when he blandly discusses his struggle with state censorship.
“I have had to fight to show every film of mine on Doordarshan and I have won a total of seven cases – two in the Supreme Court and five in the High Court,” he says. “Each time my film wins an award, I use that to argue my case for it to be screened on Doordarshan. Arey, you can't give me a National Award and then refuse to show my film on national television,” he adds.
He sees this constant struggle as a fight for his freedom of expression and the viewers' right to information. His films through the eighties include ‘A Time to Rise' (1981) (on the efforts of Indian agricultural labourers to unionise in Canada), ‘Bombay, Our City' (1985) (on the slum demolition drive in Mumbai), and ‘In Memory of Friends' (1990) (on the troubled issue of Khalistan). This was also the time when he realised the profundity of the communal problem in the country and made two films, ‘Ram Ke Naam' (1992) (on the Rath Yatra) and ‘Father, Son and Holy War' (1995) (on the psychological element of communal violence).
His later films include, ‘A Narmada Diary' (1996) and ‘War and Peace' (2002) (a long documentary on nuclear tests in India and Pakistan), among others.
Answering a question on whether his films offer solutions, Patwardhan said: “I can only make people look at life from different perspectives.” Not the one to wallow in a despairing nostalgia, Patwardhan who is now working on a film on caste issues says: “I enjoy what I do, and I will continue to do this…”