India Today July 1-15, 1977
UNDERGROUND: THE FILM THAT GOT AWAY
In October 1974, at the height of J. P.'s "
total revolution" movement in Bihar, ayoung man, city bred and university
educated, put everything aside to go and work in a "
genuine movement of the people." The events in Bihar rose to a fiery crescendo
that late summer. As J.P. moved from village to village, crossing rivers and
the flat plains the people took up his cry. The meetings grew in number, the
rallies became more powerful as the movement gained momentum.
Anand Patwardhan, then 25, saw it as a spontaneous movement—"at a
point when the whole country was totally stagnating, when the Congress was becoming
an un-challengable force and any real movement of the people was being indiscriminately
crushed and destroyed."
Patwardhan, felt impelled to put the movement on record. He had travelled and
lived in Bihar for a month. "The people," he now recalls, "were
genuinely excited about the potential for change." He decided to film the
rallies. In the beginning the idea was to simply record police violence at rallies.
But soon the force of the movement inspired him to embark upon a proper film. "A
film which I could show to people in Bihar, which would become part of the ongoing
process of the movement."
How the film was made against all odds, how it was smuggled out of the country
during the Emergency, how its maker sought refuge abroad himself, and motivated
public opinion is a story which Patwardhan, now back in India with the completed
film, can alone tell. More eloquently the half-hour long film Waves of Revolution
speaks for itself. Composed of stark shots, stills of mobs and loose footage
of stampedes and police
firings the document is a poignant portrait of an uprising that led to the implementation
of the Emergency.
From late 1974 to May 1975 Patwardhan thought of little else than his film. "I
had no equipment, no money and nobody would lend me a camera. Eventually I tracked
down a Super 8 camera and recorded interviews on cassettes. Later a friend joined
me from Delhi. He had a 16mm camera from World War II and for three days we shot
everything we could on it." By the time the film was completed in 1975 the
Emergency was declared. Patwardhan's intention ot taking the film back to Bihar
to show it to the people now seemed futile. With J.P. himself jailed, Patwardhan
stealthily moved underground. "I was sure they'd bum it if they ever saw
it," he said. Carefully he cut the print into two or three bits and smuggled
it out of the country through some trusting travellers. "The idea was that
it should go out, somehow be re-assembled and shown. 1 did not then realize
that it would be not easy to re-assemble the film without my presence."
Fortunately Patwardhan was safe at home, because he had been working in Bihar
under an assumed name, but a piece of luck turned up in the form of a scholarship
to McGill University in Canada where he was offered an assistantship to teach
Once in Canada Patwardhan pooled in all his resources to re-shape his film. He
re-edited bits, put in a new soundtrack, a proper prologue. Then he decided to
show the film: in Canadian campuses, to American film clubs, in Britain and in
France the film was widely circulated and it became a pointer to the repression
and stagnation of India under Emergency rule. "My only justification for
being abroad was to undermine the government and this I was doing through the
film, in a way.'
Now that he is back in India with a print of the film Patwardhan hopes that the
subject will continue to serve as a reminder even to the new government of a
movement that had caught the imagination of the people. He has put in a new epilogue
to the film and is considering changing it to advocate the release of Naxalite
prisoners still in jail