Was there a particular occurrence that spurred you to make War and Peace?
In the last two decades I watched my country sacrifice all the principles that once made me proud of our Independence. Non-violence, secularism and egalitarianism were replaced by venality, religious sectarianism and militarism. Mahatma Gandhi became hopelessly out of place and out of date.
The film was born out of depression. I was shocked in 1974 when India tested its first atom bomb. At the time our government announced that having proven nuclear capability, it would not take further steps towards weaponization. But in May 1998 we gate-crashed into the dubious 5 nation nuclear club by declaring ourselves a nuclear weapons State. For me the spectre of what might happen if nukes fell on India or Pakistan was matched by the horror of watching people celebrate the power of destruction. Some of the celebration was based on poor information. We took films and slide shows about Hiroshima and Nagasaki to screen in working class neighbourhoods and witnessed how quickly the euphoria evaporated as people saw for the first time what an atom bomb actually did.
Within weeks Pakistan replied to the Indian tests in kind, and a full-scale nuclear arms race was on. Now not only was there an ever-increasing danger of nuclear war, but the chances of an accidental holocaust loomed large as did the inevitability that much of our badly needed resources would be poured down the arms drain. All this motivated me to embark on the journey that eventually became “War and Peace”.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the film is the idea that it’s become unpatriotic not to worship the bomb. What are your feelings about this trend?
“War and Peace”.is a critique of nuclear nationalism and mindless patriotism. In the Indian and Pakistani context this “patriotism” is mixed up with notions of religious supremacy which makes it that much more lethal but our region is not unique in this respect. It does not need much imagination to see that even in so-called advanced nations like the UK and the USA, a great deal of racism and deep-seated religious prejudice fuels the propensity towards righteous war and the belief that “terrorism” resides only in the other.
Why was it important for you to travel to the United States for this film?
The militarism and jingoism of Third World elites comes from the desire to emulate Big Brother. Where once our psyche was shaped by British colonialism, today the object of our love-hate is definitely the USA. Naturally we see nukes as a legitimate currency of power. How could I critique our Bomb without critiquing the fountain-head, the only nation that has ever dropped atom bombs on populated cities ?
The film has faced some censorship in India. Why has that happened?
For the same reason that British government wanted to muzzle the BBC. The film asked too many uncomfortable questions, revealed politicians in a poor light, exposed the outright lies of those who dressed themselves up in the flag.
I am happy to report that eventually I won my year-long battle against censorship when the High Court ruled that the film could be shown without a single cut. The judges stated that critical voices must be heard for the health of democracy. I hope the British and American public will be as lucky.
How would you describe the peace movement in India and Pakistan? Are you optimistic?
India, Pakistan… the world itself is on a short fuse. Pessimism means succumbing, optimism means choosing survival.