The Indian Express
Pune Newsline June 06, 2007
A voice above the din
Anand Patwardhan’s compelling narrative War and Peace continues
to mesmerise audiences and polarize opinions
A powerful polemic that seeks to unveil the insidious intentions and misguided
spurt of nationalism behind India’s much celebrated nuclear testing in
1998, Anand Patwardhan’s War and Peace compels you to stop, think and
realign certain perspectives. The two and a half hour documentary, shot across
four countries and interspersed with innumerable interviews, news footage and
a diverse range of opinions draws on the historical context, like the assassination
of Mahatama Gandhi and the American bombing of Japan to bring home the perils
of malleable patriotism that feeds on jingoism and Machiavellian political
manipulations. Riveting, fast-paced and laced with dark humour, War and Peace
has been the recipient of 10 prestigious awards and is Patwardhan’s latest
work. The documentary maker was in the city for a screening of and discussion
on the film at the NFAI last week. Excerpts.....
What provoked/inspired you to make War and Peace?
It was born initially out of the macabre sight of watching my countrymen celebrate
the Atom Bomb. Soon despair gave way to hope as a peace movement began to
take shape both in India as well as in Pakistan.
It was four years in making. Any particular reason why? Also didn’t
some of the realities/perceptions change over this time span?
It took four years in the making and then over a year to get the right to screen
it legally in India. My films don’t have a script. I follow my instincts
and events as they unfold. This process takes its own time. I ended up filming
in four countries, India, Pakistan, Japan and America. Did my perceptions change?
Yes, of course. I was anti-nuclear to start with and this never changed, but
my understanding of the issue deepened as I did more research and my perceptions
about Pakistanis were altered by contact with them.
You have fought-and won- four battles with the Censor Board that wanted vital
cuts in your films. Will it ease the path for future documentary makers dealing
with controversial topics?
The Censors tried to interfere with virtually all my films. But in every case
I won my battles either at the Revising Committee stage or in the courts. To
date not a single frame has been cut in over 30 years of filmmaking. This speaks
terribly of the Censor Board’s attempts but it does speak well of our
Constitution which guarantees Freedom of Expression in Article 19 i (a). To
the extent that filmmakers continue to engage with the State when their rights
get trampled, freedom of expression will be protected.
It is possible to not bother to approach the Censor Board at all, by being
content to screen our work abroad or in spaces that the State does not police,
like the internet or private screenings, or some festival screenings. But I
prefer the path of engaging with the State directly as this sets a legal precedent.
Where all has War and Peace been screened and with what impact?
The film has been shown widely in activist circles and colleges and some schools
in India. It was shown by a private channel even in Pakistan, and after a
long fight, by Doordarshan in India. The impact is difficult to measure.
Of course it has not changed the powers that be. India remains a great votary
of the Nuke and our elite remains thrilled to join the harems of the greatest
nuclear criminal in the world, the USA.
Why do you do your own camera and editing, something uncommon for
a documentary maker? Doesn’t this in any way put more pressure on you?
I began shooting and editing my own films out of economic necessity but now
it’s a habit. When you don’t do much pre-planning, it is easiest
to just pick up your camera and go when the time is ripe. Sometimes if I pre
plan, another camera person would be useful.
You have said that as a child you hated cinema. And now, as an adult.....?
My filmmaking was not born out of a love for cinema. It is a taste acquired
over time but I still cannot justify my filmmaking in artistic terms alone.
I always need to know if my films are contributing something back to the
people I film.
Back to Interviews