The filmmaker whose film ‘Reason’ was screened at the festival after a court order, says the progressive movement lacks a secular cultural space.

Do not stop the fight for reason Anand Patwardhan at Kerala Film Festival
Flix Documentary Thursday, June 27, 2019 - 12:14

Narendra Dabholkar has a little spear stuck across his tongue, much like a sanyasi once did in front of an audience. The next minute, however, he removes the spear and shows the little projection in it, which lets him insert it in his tongue and make it seem like he has pierced it. The rationalist’s act is recorded in camera and filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, while making his documentary called Reason, included the footage. Right after this part in the film, however, you hear the sound of a bike on the road and four gun shots fired, one after the other. Dabholkar was shot dead on August 20, 2013.

Anand’s latest documentary is finally being screened at the Kairali Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram, in the competition section of the International Documentary and Short Film Festival. It had not been easy. The Central government did not want to give permission to the screening of a film that details the events leading to the killings of rationalists like Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and later, Gauri Lankesh. The film also shows the stories of student leaders like Rohith Vemula who killed himself, Kanhaiya Kumar who got arrested, and further details the many atrocities towards Dalits that continue to this day and of which a large part of India is in denial.

Despite the Centre's objections, the festival organisers – Kerala Chalachitra Academy – decided to fight it out and took the case to the High Court in Kochi. Anand, who boarded his flight to Thiruvananthapuram, changed planes and got down in Kochi. On Tuesday evening, they won the case – the film could be screened, the court said, but only for this festival. When the film got screened on Wednesday morning, a packed audience sat through all four hours of it, and came out, with several announcing it had enlightened them in ways they didn’t think possible.

“The Kerala Film Festival fought very hard and that’s why the film could be shown today. Usually, I have to fight my battles more or less alone, except for the lawyer friends who have fought free cases for me. Unfortunately this case we won now does not go very far, it is only for this festival (that the film could be screened). I have spent more time in courts than in making films,” says the director of documentaries such as Ram Ke Naam, Father Son and Holy War, and Prisoners of Conscience.

In the documentary, you hear Anand ask those who speak angrily against Muslim terrorists and highly of Veer Savarkar (RSS ideologue), about which political party the killer of Mahatma Gandhi belonged to. They refuse to accept he was an RSS member even as Anand tells them it was stated by his (Godse’s) own brother. In another shot, you see angry people onstage at a conference say that Anand Patwardhan should be killed. The camera turns towards the director then and Anand raises his hand to say, I am here, do what you will.

The stories that he tells are of the people who made such brave moves, walking into the crowds and revealing the truths behind the many blind faiths people have been accustomed to – in the language they understand. Calm, patient, peace loving people. And they were shot. You fear for Anand, who is boldly telling these stories. A young man from the audience reminds him of a time when one of Anand’s film screenings was disrupted by angry ABVP (students’ wing of the BJP) members in a Kerala college. But the young man adds that he is comforted by the documentary that has revealed that there are many who are fighting the battle (against casteism) in other parts of the country too.

“Yes, we have all suffered a big loss in the last election. But that doesn’t mean that we should get so depressed that we stop doing anything about it. Look at how they (RSS-BJP) did it. When Mahatma Gandhi was murdered in 1948, they were so unpopular that they were beaten up in Pune and many other places. They had to go underground. They were banned. But they managed to continue, put their ideologies slowly even in bad circumstances. Finally they got legitimatised in the 1970s and later they came to power. They are in power now,” Anand says.

Where the progressive movement of the country failed is in creating a secular culture to match the cultural body of the RSS. “The RSS was banned in 1948 and when the ban was lifted in 1949, they were not allowed to do politics. However, they created a cultural wing, they called themselves a cultural body. They managed to spread it all over the country. I don’t see the progressive movement doing anything of the sort. Except a few like Dabholkar and Pansare.”

There is a reason why he has called his film Reason, Anand says. It is not about one or two political parties, it is about all those who are willing to fight, to be logical. “As long as you don’t believe in superstition and blind faith and all of that, you can be united. That culture has to be created. That’s what our freedom fighters have fought for. That’s why we have gone so far from 1947.”

The disillusionment that many feel now (after the election results) is because they have stopped doing the hard work they once did. “It is the absence of utilising the tools that can change people’s minds. You need to engage with people. Show films and have discussions. That will create consciousness. We have to question everything. No matter if it's your own party or your own colleagues.”

When an elderly man asks him about the Upanishads, which talk about humanism, Anand says he would tell him what Dabholkar said, “If I meet someone who is religious and who becomes a better human being because religion has taught him ethics and to be good to others, I will hug such a person. But if your religion teaches you inequality, then I don’t believe in that religion.”

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