JUNE 17-30, 2005

War and Peace
Dir Anand Patwardhan.
1 hour 30mins. Documentary with
English subtitles.





Documentary guru Anand Patwardhan’s rousing, engrossing and unexpectedly funny broadside against India’s hot chase of the bomb opens with an old newsreel on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s assassination by Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse. Patwardhan’s voiceover questions the trajectory that India’s politics later took, ” from non-violence to nuclear nationalism”. Cut to 1998, when the BJP government conducted nuclear tests at Pokhran, the same place India had first tested a nuclear device in 1974. This anti-bomb and anti-war film is also a swipe at the Sangh Parivar’s communal and ultra-nationalist politics. Patwardhan takes us to mandals at the Ganpati festivalthat year where hilarious but ultimately chilling celebrations of India’s new-found “virility” are being enacted; to blood-donation camps where party workers shout “Atom Bomb Vajpayee” in a frenzy. Cut again to self-congratulatory speeches by BJP leaders who constantly underline India’s newfound “security” and gloat over the fact that the globe, especially the United States, has finally “heard” us. The blasts serve as a launch pad for Patwardhan to question the wisdom of pursuing a nuclear programme; the links between nationalism, communal-ism and nuclearisation and the price citizens pay for India’s increased militarism (for example, India spends more on defence than on health and education). To complete the circle, Patwardhan makes forays into Pakistan, where he finds peaceniks and also the Sangh Parivar’s brothers in hate. In a key sequence, Lahore schoolgirls read out anti-India propaganda as part of a class assignment, but later admit that they did so only to get more marks. The Lahore classroom sums up Patwardhan’s theory on why India went nuclear: to max the global exam on military prowess.
War and Peace is cogently argued and handles several complex isms with great ease by handing the mike to an ocean of voices from India, Pakistan, Japan and the United States. The film never lapses into hysteria, yet holds on to anger and pain and gives the pro-bomb guys a wide berth to make asses of themselves. Here’s Dr Raja Ramanna, the so-called father of the 1974 Pokhran blast: “When we were done with wiring everything [at Pokhran], we asked the security men to get rid of the cows… if they had tripped that would have spoilt the whole show… As you know, we have been worshipping cows for centuries and we knew that they would be friendly to us.” NR War and Peace opens on June 24. See Now playing.

Nandini Ramnath