Anand Patwardhan’s Documentary on the Conflict Between Faith and Rationality
July 8, 2019
One does not need to watch dystopian ﬁction Leila to get a sense of what our near-future entails, Anand Patwardhan's 16-episode documentary Vivek (Reason) presents an already sombre situation of the country plagued by issues like hyper-nationalism, right-wing Hindu extremism, casteism and waning secularism.
The film is a corroboration of the events following the murder of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. The film goes on to cover the anatomy and inception of Sanathan Sanstha, RSS, and other hindu militias like Abhinav Bharat and its alleged involvement in Malegaon blasts in September,2006.
It delves deeper into the issue of ostracisation of Muslims and Dalits through cases of cow vigilantism and lynchings across the country and suicide of Ambedkar Student Association (ASA) leader and student of Hyderabad Central University-Rohith Vemula. The film also explores student activism in universities through the JNU sedition case and branding of counter forces against dominant ideology as ‘anti-nationalist’ under the ruling government.
The narrative of the film is built through personal interviews with the family members of the victims. The film shows a constant tussle between faith and rationality and vouches for truth and rationality as against superstitions and blind faith.
The film won the award for Best Feature Length Documentary 2018 at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and was premiered at Toronto International Film Festival 2018. Anand Patwardhan has previously made critically-acclaimed films like Bombay: Our City, Ram Ke Naam(In The Name Of God), Jai Bhim Comrade and several others covering wide range of socio-political issues concerning the country.
Recently, Kerala High Court overruled centre’s objections with the screening of the film at International Documentary and Short Film Festival held in Kerala from 24th-26th June.
The Constitution of India through its Article19 (1)(a) guarantees its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. It includes the right to express one’s opinions by means of words of mouth, writing, printing, picture or other modes. However, the right is not absolute and subject to “reasonable restrictions” imposed under Article 19(2). This clause has often been used by various governments in power as a tool to protect its interests; Anand Patwardhan’s films among many others have often been the targets of such restrictions on flimsy grounds.
‘The case for or against all ﬁlms of Anand Patwardhan can actually lead to a complete book on how his ﬁlms were censored, on what grounds and at the same time, went on to win top awards at national and international ﬁlm festivals. This is an anomaly but anomaly is an integral part of how rules made by the government are actually violated by the same government. How can you ban the screening of a given ﬁlm and also bestow it with an award? But not very strange when you consider the history of censored ﬁlms in India’, says Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji a renowned film scholar and author.
‘Patwardhan's “War and Peace” which won the National Award for the Best Documentary, was told by the CBFC to bring about 21 cuts on 24th April, 2003, six cuts on 14th June 2002 and the screening too was cancelled in Kolkata on 2nd June 2002. Similar bans and restrictions have been imposed on all his ﬁlms which reveals the ruling party, whichever rules at the centre and controls the CBFC's lack of conﬁdence and fears of further massive reprisals by the common public such as the diabolic killings of Dabholkar and the rest of them.
For Reason, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting need not even spell out the reasons why they are so acutely uncomfortable with the ﬁlm. In fact, Patwardhan can claim to have eligibility in a court of law with his long experience in ﬁghting cases against the banning of his ﬁlms. Reason deals with the main issues of criminalization of the majority by heaping oppression, torture, marginalization and even killing of different minority groups including individuals working for these groups and a majority-ruled, Right-Wing government cannot allow this, can it?’, she tells The Citizen.
Patwardhan’s investigative and participatory style of ﬁlmmaking allows him to engage and interact with people on both sides of the political spectrum. In the ﬁlm, he is seen interviewing close relatives of the people who lost their lives, like Sartaj (Akhlaq's son), Uma Pansare(Pansare’s wife), Shaila Dabholkar(Dabholkar’s wife), Mohsin's father and several others, while he also confronts fascist Hindu outﬁts with questions and probes into their rallies and events.
Both the situations elicit very different reactions, while the former brings out heart-rending instances; the latter brings out violent reactions and agitated behaviour.
Like his previous films, Reason too is no short of including elements of performing arts through the moving performances by Angnis, Kabir Kala Manch's Sheetal and Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Even, the end of every episode gives a theatrical vibe with the text 'Dharavahik ka agla bhaag kal issi jagah, issi samay'(next episode in the series, tomorrow at same place and time) against the backdrop of proscenium curtains. Creative and symbolic devices are meticulously used to shape the narrative of the film.
The film effectively showcases the two contrasting sides of media. On one hand the issue of mainstream media accentuating polarization can be seen in the ﬁlm through instances like tampering the video of JNU protests and Arnab Goswami lashing out at Umar Khalid, while on the other hand, Patwardhan uses archival footages and media reports as facts and evidences for every argument put forth in the film. Thus, touching upon the role played by media in all its forms in the Indian politics.
Even though the film concludes with the killing of Gauri Lankesh, it purposefully leaves one with a sense of inconclusiveness and uncertainty while simultaneously cautioning us of the future events that might unfold if the present trend continues.
This 16-episode film constantly appeals for replacing the politics of faith with the politics of reason. Following is the link to all episodes of Reason (Vivek) which are available on YouTube weaves a stark documentation of the issues hyper-nationalism, right-wing extremism, Hindutva politics, waning secularism plaguing contemporary India.
First published in The Citizen.Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.
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