Anand Patwardhan's documentary film "War and Peace (Jung aur Aman)" was screened at IIT Bombay on 30th August 2009. During and after the discussion session of the documentary film, our editorial team member Anirban Ghatak took a short interview of Anand. Anand answered the questions with equal determination and conviction which we are pretty used to see in his films. Here we present the interview.
1. You have always shown your bias towards non-violence. Especially Gandhi. Even, once you had placed Gandhi and Salvador Alende in the same platform. Do you find any difference between them with respect to the class character and class consciousness?
I am not amongst those who see Gandhi and Marx as sworn enemies. I remain persuaded by aspects of Gandhism, most importantly, his abiding faith in non-violent action, but have been equally influenced by the tool of class analysis that Marxism gave to the world. But just as there are aspects of Gandhism that I question, like his attitude to sexuality, the limits of his approach on the question of caste, and his idealistic hope that the rich would voluntarily part with their wealth, so too I am critical of the failure of aspects of Marxism, to be more precise, the empirical truth that Marxist systems by and large have historically failed to provide a working democratic model. Marxists who refuse to rethink this have given an endless rope to the stage known as the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and are satisfied to treat the stage known as “the withering away of the State” as an unattainable dream, as intangible as the Holy Grail. Traditional Marxists are also in a time warp when it comes to questions like sustainable development and it is hard to distinguish them from the thinking of capitalists in this regard. They support Nuclear energy, Big dams, and the Green Revolution inspite of all the information that now exists about the dangers these pose.
Very few struggles for justice in the world are purely violent or non-violent. There is always a mixture of these elements, as there was even in the Indian Independence struggle, but it is important what direction the leadership gives. The connection with Salvador Allende is that he came to power through the ballot and not the bullet. When he was killed by a CIA led coup, it did lead me for a while to question my faith in non-violence. But subsequently, on the balance of things, I still prefer the errors of non-violence to that of violence.
2. What do you think about the relation of class struggle to the issues you have been dealing with? Do you think you have given more importance to the other superficial issues which are born from class conflict?
If you are used to certain kinds of jargon, in the absence of that jargon even when the substance behind the jargon stands before your eyes, you may not recognize it. I dislike the use of jargon but the substance behind the jargon is very much there in my films. Have you seen the trilogy we made on religious fundamentalism? Each film explores a different analytical focus to look at the question of sectarian violence. The first film “In Memory of Friends” looked at a group of Marxist Sikhs and Hindus who traversed the countryside of
3. As a faithful activist of non-violence, it will be pretty interesting to listen to your opinion about the separatist movements at different part of
I made a film during the height of the Khalistan movement in Punjab in 1987. We followed a group of Sikh and Hindu who were spreading the secular message of Shaheed Bhagat Singh in the midst of sectarian strife. Regarding separatist movements in general, I am influenced by two seemingly contradictory ideas. If you believe in democracy, the people in an area have the right to choose where they want to be. Military force can’t do that, for that is not democracy. If you agree on that then the problem is solved, but contradictorily, it may not be such a good thing for the world to get divided into smaller and smaller units. That increases friction between the units. Nationality issues would still come up, for a minority will remain even in a smaller nation, how do you address them? I do believe that non violence is the key. You start talking and stop fighting. Europe fought the worst wars in which 50% of it’s population was killed. Today they stand voluntarily united. At the same time I believe that nobody has the right to keep someone in some marked place by force. I believe in self-determination as a cornerstone of any democracy, and practically oppose the violence of the State, but turning a blind eye to the violence of militant groups fighting for whatever cause, is both an inconsistency and a disservice to ordinary people caught in the crossfire.
Our greater leaders knew that from day one… Gandhi, Badshah Khan, JP knew that. The Kashmir issue...both India and Pakistan are oppressing Kashmiris. They need to break down the barriers between Pak held Kashmir and Indian held Kashmir. That can be done with the removal of the need for passports and visas. And that is the way of non violence.
4. Do you think there is a necessity to build an organization like IPTA to steer the humanist activism in
IPTA was brilliant in its time and still performs a more than useful role wherever it is still active. But whether to officially join such a movement or not is a choice best left to the individual activist/artist. I do feel that there will always be occasions for collective action but there is no need to give up your personal thinking cap in the interests of “party discipline”.
5. You have always told about friendship between nations as the only way to stop nuclear war. How do you want its path to be as an activist? And as a filmmaker?
Confidence building measures should start with some an announcements by one side (I’d like to see
6. You want your film to reach to the people, while you have resorted to the media of documentary film, that too in the form of “Imperfect Cinema”, without all the conventional tools and conventional glow and glamour of a film. Don’t you find it contradictory? Don’t you think a feature about this would have reached a much wider audience?
Firstly, while making a film, I never really bother about film theory. Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I was impressed by the films that documented liberation movements across Africa and Latin America. “Imperfect Cinema” was an idea that justified the aesthetics of a cinema without means, a cinema under attack and on the run. Our films happened to be imperfect because of lack of equipment and money. I couldn’t afford 35 mm film, moreover that camera is too big, so I shot in 16mm on outdated film stock that others had discarded. Sometimes even on Super 8, later on Hi8, like that… What you see in the frame of my film is not an outcome of some great theoretical thought. If there is any Art, it is nothing conscious. Self-conscious art is more con than art. It’s the integrity of purpose and the passion behind a film that may lead to art at times.
You are right that I may get a much wider audience if I chose to make a feature, but I may be a terrible fiction maker, because fiction requires a lot of managerial capabilities that I think I lack. Moreover, a documentary potentially has much more credibility than fiction. You think of Ben Kingsley playing Gandhi in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, and think of Vitthalbhai Jhaveri’s documentary, there’s a huge difference in historical value. In fiction, you don’t know what is imaginary and what actually happened. The answer is to popularize the documentary, not to convert docuwallas into fictionwallas. The challenge is to market the documentary, which was successfully done by Michael Moore. He proved that even a documentary can have box office success. As an experiment I released “War and Peace” in two multiplexes. The multiplexes gave us the slot due to heavy monsoons when they have low turnouts. We had to spend money because they didn’t have video projectors. Still we had several houseful shows and recovered our costs. I believe if there is proper backing, films like these can definitely be commercially successful. I have now tied up with a company that will market my films in home video DVD format, let’s see how it goes.
7. What do you think about the Indo-US nuclear treaty?
I think it’s a disaster. Though I welcome the safety inspection part, these inspectors can also be fooled or may in fact let themselves be fooled when their bread is buttered right. Actually the peaceful and military nuclear programs are completely intertwined in India, so the same Secrecy Act which extends to nuclear weapons, also extends to nuclear energy. No one is entitled to ask questions about safety, cost, etc. All these questions are buried under the Secrecy act. As the Indo US nuclear deal opens the door of much bigger nuclear participation for our country, I think it’s a disaster. I haven’t done much research, but I understand that wind power is already creating more energy than nuclear power with very little investment. Why not to explore this and other forms of sustainable energy further? I am cautiously hopeful that Obama has the mandate to look at alternate energy though he faces giant corporations that push in the opposite direction.
8. What do you think about the fate of right wing fundamentalism after this election debacle?
See, I am not very sure that there is a real change of heart. It is just that the old communalism is not paying dividends. I do believe that people who openly proclaim their belief are less dangerous than those who change them at the drop of a hat. Those who demolished the Babri Masjid because they were Hindu fanatics will one day see their error but those who used it as a Machiavellian strategy to achieve power are incorrigible murderers. For this same reason I hold the secular Mohammed Ali Jinnah to be much guiltier of mayhem than his fanatical Muslim followers. So I am not sure of the situation after these elections. The strategy of the BJP is: Try Babri Masjid, if it fails, try Godhra, if fails try something else. There is no religion behind any of this.
9. We have not seen much of Muslim or Christian fundamentalism in your film.
I have shown glimpses of Muslim fundamentalism in ‘Father Son and Holy War’ and in ‘War and Peace’, and glimpses of Sikh fundamentalism in ‘In Memory of Friends’ our film on Punjab. But I think that self criticism is the best criticism. As a Hindu it is more effective for me to concentrate on and expose Hindu fundamentalism. I believe that when a Saeed Mirza or Tareque Masood makes a film against Muslim fundamentalism that is going to work much better than me making such a film. Someday, when things are a lot better, and our own identities are no longer a limiting factor, we can feel free to critique anyone and everyone. I hope to see such a day in my lifetime.
10. Have you ever thought of making your films freely available through different media like internet, to make it reach to more people?
Not yet because my films are not paid for by the CIA, nor by the government, nor by corporates. They have to break even for me to make my next film so I need the understanding and support of those who find these films useful.
11. Is there any plan to move your motif of the film to take out of
I have my hands full already so am not looking for new “subjects” or new countries to film in.
12. What do you think about the print and electronic media of
The dumbing down in the print and electronic media is there for all to see and everyday this media pitches itself at a lower and lower level. It obviously serves the interests of those who gain from keeping the public obsessed with trivia.