In conversation with Anand Patwardhan, the ‘accidental’ documentary filmmaker

Compared to now, Emergency was paradise says Anand Patwardhan, who is being honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala.
In conversation with Anand Patwardhan, the ‘accidental’ documentary filmmaker
In conversation with Anand Patwardhan, the ‘accidental’ documentary filmmaker
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Four plastic chairs are laid out on top of the stairs. That’s the only quiet place in the building where a film festival is going on. Anand Patwardhan looks at the chairs and frowns. No, he’d rather sit on the steps at the back. A man of the crowd.

A floor below at the Nila Theatre, his film Father, Son and Holy War, has just been screened. There were some questions for Anand Patwardhan, who would later in the day receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the fest. It’s the first such given away by the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, now running its 11th edition.

Eight of Anand’s films are being shown for the fest including his most-discussed and debated and banned and unbanned Ram Ke Nam, that came out just before the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. A film that had detailed the campaign by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that would lead to the demolition of the centuries-old mosque in Ayodhya, to build a Ram temple in its place.   

Three years after the demolition, he made Father, Son and Holy War, again linking the violence of the Hindu nationalist movement to the violence against women. The film had won the national award for best investigative documentary in 1995. But Doordarshan, the country’s public service broadcaster, wouldn’t play the film. Anand went to court, he said, while answering a question. And fought the battle for years before the movie was allowed to be screened on TV. 

None of the changing governments had taken a different stand, he says in an interview later. Not the Congress, never the BJP. Even the Left in Kerala are not taking initiatives to screen such films that should reach the masses.

Unfortunately, some of the intolerance seen in the rest of the country has also seeped to the south, to places like Kerala, where Anand’s Ram Ke Nam was stopped from screening by ABVP activists at a Thrissur college.

“When you are the ruling party even then you don’t use the tools that are in your hand, then how is the culture going to change?”he asks of the Left and the Congress governments who have come to power. “They don’t take cinema seriously enough. They have to start using it as educational material.”

Anand had not quite expected to become a documentary filmmaker when he went to study films in the US. “It’s by accident,” he says. The Vietnam war was then going on in the US and his university was very active. He took some anti-war footage. “So I went to jail in America before I went to jail in India,” he laughs.

Even back in India, there have been what he calls ‘trigger moments’ that lead to films. The Bihar Movement happened and Anand who was asked to take photographs, ended up with videos. Waves of Revolution got made. The movement had led to the Emergency and Anand made another film, Prisoners of Conscience

But compared to what’s happening these days, the Emergency was a paradise, he says. “Before, we always thought Emergency was fascist and dictatorship.”

Anand’s last was Jai Bhim Comrade, about the time the police opened fire in Mumbai and killed ten Dalits. “That was a bloodbath.” Four days later, a Dalit poet he had worked with – Vilas Ghogre – committed suicide. "Then I started making a film. Tried to understand what made him commit suicide. Then it became many other things... it became a film on Dalit music,” Anand says. 

He has another film being made now, but he can’t tell us more about it yet, he says. Hopefully it won’t end up in years-long court cases before being screened. “After every film, four to five years are lost in court cases. One battle went on for ten years. A good friend – a Malayali called PA Sebastian – fought and won all those cases.” 

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