A voice above the din


Anand Patwardhan’s compelling narrative War and Peace continues to mesmerise audiences and polarize opinions
Sunanda Mehta

The Indian Express
Pune Newsline June 06, 2007

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.

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