Some Serious Fare At Last

V Gangadhar’s Column, The Times of India, 11 March 97

Doordarshan finally telecast the controversial documentary film, Ram Ke Naam made by Anand Pavwardhan following a court directive. The documentary faithfully reproduced the chilling communal passions which unfolded during BJP leader, L K Advani’s ‘rathyatra.’ At the same time, thousands of ordinary people were more worried about the impact of the ‘yatra’ on heir lives then the grandiose plans of the communal elements in building the Ram temple, the pujari of the Ramjanambhoomi temple said that Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal members had seldom visited the shrine before the movement began and hinted they were diverting the bricks meant for the temple for private use. He was not in favour of the destruction of the mosque. The pujari was subsequently murdered and the killing remains a mystery to this day.

The nefarious role of the UP police was thoroughly exposed by the film maker. Many of them walked away from their posts as the mobs surged towards Ayodhya. It was only after former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav ordered stern action that the state police fired on the fanatical mobs. In fact, one of the kar sevaks interviewed in the film openly admitted the police collusion and thanked them for it! Ram Ke Naam should be telecast frequently on the national work. It exposes the working of the minds of the BJP and its communal allies.

In God’s Name 
(Letter by Komal Shah in The Times of India, 12.3.97)

Sir,— I congratulate Anand Pat-wardhan on his thought-provoking masterpiece, Ram Ke Naam, which was finally telecast by Doordarshan on March 2. The film brought out the gruesome reality behind the Ram Janma Bhoomi-Babri Masjid issue — the reality of how the common man becomes the victim of communal disputes unleashed by self-seeking politicians.
It is a pity that Mr Patwardhan was not permitted to screen his film — made in December 1992 — for so long. Is this what democracy has led our country to? It is truly a pity that
the common man desires communal harmony but politicians and bureaucrats play foul games to disrupt it, Ram ke naam.

For God’s sake… 
MID-DAY Editorial, Wednesday, January 8, 1997

THE line between bringing the truth to the public and inciting people recklessly can be a very fine one indeed. The case of filmmaker Anand Patwardhan versus Doordarshan is a telling example. Patwardhan’s documentary, Ram Ke Noam, is based on the Ayodhya controversy and was made around the first attack on the Babri Masjid just after L K Advani’s Rath Yatra in 1990.

It has won the national award for the best investigative documentary by the Union Government as well as a Filmfare award and various other international honours. However, Doordarshan, in its wisdom, decided that the film was much too incendiary to be telecast since it would rake up the Ayodhya issue again and disturb the peace. The government-run television network even contended that the film was about the Babri Masjid demolition.

The Bombay High Court has now ordered that Doordarshan telecast the film on prime time, after a petition was filed by Patwardhan three years ago. The film portrays the rise of religious fundamentalism in thecountry. Even 50 years after Partition and four years after the Babri Masjid demolition, who can deny that religious intolerance is not an issue to be discussed, understood and perhaps even combated?

Films like Ram Ke Naam serve to ask uncomfortable questions that bring us closer to a better understanding of ourselves. It is very easy to fall into the trap that all entertainment should be mindless, that all questions are dangerous. The dangers of ignoring Ram Ke Naam are far greater than those that are inherent in showing it. Sometimes, unless people are made to actually see, and through that understand, where indiscriminate and ill-thought action leads, they find it very easy to repeat their mistakes. A film like this may be no more than a simple catalyst to spark of some thought.

The recent Shiv Sena attack on a convent school in Mumbai over an alleged conversion issue proves just how menacing poorly formed religious views can be. The high court’s action may well work to open minds and open rigidly held views to question.

Emerging the winner
Maithili Rao, 12.3.97

After much litigation, Doordarshan last week telecast Anand Patwardhan’s award-winning documentary on Hindu militancy

DOORDARSHAN resembles nothing more than a big bully who submits finally to a bigger bully wielding a bigger stick. You thought, like any reasonable person with a healthy sense of self-respect, that Doordarshan would have learnt its lesson after its long legal tussle with Anand Patwardhan who relishes a fight against authority as much as he loves making documentaries on “controversial” subjects. But whoever said that Doordar-shan’s faceless bureaucrats, who execute the written and unwritten commands of their political masters, had this virtue called self-respect? But you assumed that they at least had the survival instinct, without which no species can live and perpetuate itself. The Doordarshan bureaucrat must be a hybrid wonder, baffling all biologists.

So finally Anand Patwardhan triumphed, as he was surely expected to, after the courts commanded Doordarshan to telecast Ram Ke Naam. Patwardhan had after all the earlier experience of Bombay Our City which again needed judicial intervention before it got its rightful time on the national network by virtue of winning the highest national award given by the government. This bizarre Kafkaesque scenario, where one wing of the information and broadcasting ministry hands out prizes to a film and another wing tries it damndest best to block the telecast of the very same film, ought to inspire our filmmakers to make black comedies centring on inept, self-defeating censorship. Where are our political farceurs when we need them?! In all this highly publicized legal drama, who has benefited the most? Why, Anand Patwardhan, of course. Sorry for the cynicism — this in no way diminishes my admiration for Patwardhan’s ability as a skilled and committed documentarist who can pick “the issue” which can needle the national conscience — but how many would even be aware of the telecast of Ram Ke Naam but for the long-drawn legal battle? These battles with authority have made Patwardhan’s films a cause celebre geared to gain media sympathy. The next logical question which not many ask is: how many committed documentary filmmakers have the stamina, strength, resources and media savvy of this battle-scarred veteran?

Not many, I am afraid. In our country, it is only politically controversial films which manage to gain press sympathy and space. Will this judgment and Doordarshan’s shame-faced compliance become a precedent so that all films which win the highest national awards will automatically be telecast within a reasonable time of their winning these prizes? Every information and broadcasting minister, whatever party and front he may belong to, has asserted from every possible podium that films which win top national and international prizes — like our very own biannual BIFF — will be aired on Doordarshan. Frailty of memory, thy name is an Indian information and broadcasting minister. We have seen these ministers come and go — a regular procession, and they are eagerly joined by state information and broadcasting ministers when such film festivals are held in state capitals — mouthing promises at presentation ceremonies and not one has bothered to remember what they said.

Like justice delayed being justice denied, the immediacy of a hot political subject thaws and then freezes into a forgotten past. If the baleful, inimical and calculated cynical exploitation of simple Hindu reverence for Ram was telecast soon after Ram Ke Naam won a Swam Kamal in the summer of ’92, would it have alerted the nation to the dangers of the Hindu fundamentalist wagon fuelled by misguided Ram bhakti? Patwardhan believes that exposing the mass ignorance, blind prejudice, and frightening xenophobia of those who followed Advani’s rath yatra would have perhaps roused the dormant secularism of the majority of the Hindus. Could it have averted that dastardly blot on our so-called tolerance when the Babri Masjid was razed by frenzied karsevaks? It is not easy to second-guess history, but many ordinary Indians who had nothing to do with the karsevaks or the rath yatra might have been spared the guilt and shame of 6 December ’92.

Of course, there are those who argue that films never undid history or thwarted its process once atavistic forces had been unleashed. Leni Riefenstahl’s stunning Triumph of Will did not wake the rest of the world to the dangers of Hilter’s Nazi Germany. The documentary went on to win a number of prizes (outside, Germany) and is now condemned to the hell reserved for fallen angels who package evil with unsurpassed beauty. But we, at the fag end of this century, are expected to be more media-literate and see through the cynical games that politicians play. But given the self-preserving instincts of the political breed, you can be sure that Doordarshan at least will not keep its routinely reiterated promise of giving documentaries their allotted time. Yes, innocuous and touristy and propagandist films will be shown from time to time, but not incendiary stuff.

Why blame Doordarshan? It too has jumped into the no-holds-barred war for ad revenue against the satellite channels, conveniently forgetting that even the home of free enterprise, good old capitalist USA, has a channel called PBS. But for PBS, there wouldn’t have oeen the brilliant Civil War series. Just as a free press and a free judiciary are necessary for democracy, so is the right to air dissent on national TV. But it is easier for Doordarshan and other channels to celebrate the Mera Bharat Mahan feel good fiesta of song, dance and sports heroes carrying’ the national flag. The more a nation feels threatened about its identity and integrity, the more tempting are patriotic placebos.