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In June 2002 the Indian Censor Board demanded unprecedented cuts to a homegrown documentary film. They included deleting all scenes and audio which depict "leaders" and a sequence in which a Dalitneo-Buddhist argues that it is a travesty that nuclear tests were carried out on Buddha's birthday. Chandra Siddan interviewed radical filmmaker Anand Patwardhan.

A celebration of love: an interview with Anand Patwardhan

The following interview was conducted with filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, who recently produced War and Peace - a three-hour film of epic proportions about the state of affairs in Pakistan and India. We spoke in Toronto during the Hot-docs Film Festival after the showing of his film.

CS: Anand, do you call your self a Gandhian? I am going by what I saw in War and Peace where you trace your relationship to Gandhi through your uncles and other Gandhians in the family.

AP: Well, that's funny because the BJP [Bharathiya Janata Party, the currently ruling Hindu right wing party in India] calls me a communist - about two months ago two of my films were scheduled to show in New York at the Museum of Natural History. They sent letters complaining that I was a communist and the museum actually cancelled the show. Then the supporters of the film wrote and... finally it was shown in New York University. So, anyway, I have been labelled many things - I am neither a Marxist nor a Gandhian in a 100% sense, though I am influenced by those ideas. I like the idea of nonviolent struggle against injustices of the world. Even for the most just cause, if you use violence, the cause becomes unjust eventually. Violence can spread easily - and when you use violence you cannot even be sure it is directed against the person who did the injustice. It may happen to an innocent person. Like people keep taking revenge on the wrong people. Or in the case of revenge for things done 500 years ago - that's amazing...

CS: How do you finance your films?

AP: So far I have tried to sell the films after they have been made. I don't try to raise the money before. That gives me total independence and avoids the accusation the Indian government might make that this is foreign funded. Because my films are political it is easy for them to say that. But that means I have to struggle to sell the films later - getting them on TV is the best thing but I have never been shown on TV here [in North America], only in India after I take them to court, etc.

CS: How do you make a living?

AP: Basically selling the films once they are made - that is part of it. Then the university circuit lectures and screenings in America ... and my films are distributed to universities. Sometimes prize money from festivals - that keeps me going.

CS: What kind of South Asian solidarity movement do you envisage...?

AP: I think that though in India and Pakistan we have a peace movement we have great problems crossing the border. We are not given visas, the governments try to stop us - it is a struggle. But in North America you have easy access - Indians, Srilankans and Pakistanis live in the same neighbourhood.

It is important to build South Asian solidarity groups over here. Groups which take up the peace movement and protest against any nation that tries to violate peace or human rights and indulges in unnecessary nationalism and so-called patriotism... Now we have to have a larger identity. I would rather have human being as an identity but if you cannot go that far at least claim South Asia instead of your own little country...

CS: There used to be a group in Toronto, on the cultural front, they folded because of lack of money.

AP: These must be seen as movements - you don't have to depend on money - people have come to the habit of thinking that if you have no money then you cannot do the work - by that token I would never make any films... It does not cost money anyhow to build a South Asian solidarity movement. You can email and meet at people's homes. In fact I would like War and Peace to be used for that. You can invite Indian and Pakistani people to come to the screening and from then on you could maintain contact.

CS: A Patwardan retrospective ...

AP: A South Asian retrospective, with films from Srilanka, Pakistan, India - infact there is a festival like that run in Khatmandu called [the] Himal festival and they even have a travelling festival - a website and the tapes go everywhere.[see http://www.himalassociation.org/fsa/travelling1.html]

CS: So your films come from an activist hinterland - you are based in Bombay, is there a supportive community there?

AP: There is a progressive community all over India, from the left, from Gandhians or... “not defined” - like me. And it is growing. People see what's going wrong in the country and are reacting to it - the question is how do we tap into that - to connect with them.

CS: How do you account for the political passivity of Indian youth?

AP: (laughs) Unfortunately they are not passive - they are joining the wrong side - hindutva [the hindu right wing] people get youth on their side but the left and the progressives are not mobilising the youth as much as they were.

CS: There is no hope for India unless there is a new left, is there?

AP: Not necessarily [a new left] in terms of belonging to a party, but a new consciousness... like it happened in the '60s and '70s in America - that kind of change in weather needs to take place

CS: Were you influenced by the American anti-Vietnam War movement?

AP: Yes, I was a part of the anti-Vietnam war movement. I was a student here at that time but also I was influenced by the other liberation movements in Latin America, the Cuban revolution, civil rights movement... things like that.

CS: About Gandhi, you privilege him with a “holy spot” in Indian History - but he talked of Ramrajya [kingdom of Ram, a Hindu god] - wasn't that a mistake? This Hindu romantic nationalism and decolonisation - isn't that precisely what has led to our current problems?

Online Petitions

You can support Anand and his film by signing a petition, directed to the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting:

”We, the undersigned, wish to bring to your notice our deep concern about the plight of Anand Patwardhan's award-winning documentary War and Peace, submitted over a month ago for certification to the Censor Board.

We urge you to take immediate steps to arrange for the speedy release of the film without cuts.” To sign, visit: http://www.petitiononline.com/ ekta_wp/petition.html

Anand's films

  • War and Peace (2001)
  • Ribbons for Peace (1998)
  • Fishing in the Sea of Greed (1998)
  • Occupation: Mill Worker (1996)
  • We Are Not Your Monkeys (1996)
  • Narmada Diary (1995)
  • Father, Son and Holy War (1995)
  • In the Name of God (1992)
  • In Memory of Friends (1990)
  • Bombay Our City (1985)
  • A Time to Rise (1981)
  • Prisoners of Conscience (1978)
  • Waves of Revolution (1974)
  • Business as Usual (1971)

AP: That criticism has been made of Gandhi in the past - I think there is some value to that criticism, except you cannot carry it too far. You have to put yourself in those times - it is easy to sit here in 2002 and criticise him. You must consider his back ground - he came out of the conservative uppercaste Hindu background. In his whole life he read may be about four books one was the Geeta [the Bhagavadgeeta, a Hindu holy text], another a Tolstoy ... By the way - I am not a Gandhian in the sense that I think everything he did was great. I don't agree with his ideas on sex, among other things. As to Gandhi's use of the Hindu idiom - he did not use the Hindu idiom to promote Hinduism as he found it - he used it to radically change the meaning of it - to reaffirm his own humanitarian interest - in that sense he is a liberation theologist who fought for social justice. He kept changing every thing he found unjust with in Hinduism itself. He would offer his own interpretation of Hinduism and claim that that was the real Hinduism. For instance, he fought against untouchability - he used to live in the Bhangi colony as it was then called - the lowest of the low castes lived there and he would break all the taboos of caste - eating with them, sleeping with them, cleaning his own toilet! He was the first person of an upper caste to have done that - even among the leftists and Marxists I have not heard of any body doing that, or making a point of it. He actually broke through the biggest taboo in the Hindu caste system - this pollution concept. He said every one should work with their hands - that means everybody is supposed to be doing everything and therefore are equal - he was far ahead of his times.

He used this Ramrajya as a concept of goodness. If he was a Marxist he would have used “classless society” or whatever. He believed in the equality of all religions. You cannot accuse him of being a Hindu nationalist in any way. It is no accident that a Hindu fanatic killed him.

CS: India is so big - if it were a smaller state one could go out and create a movement - but India is so overwhelming and different states are at different levels. Communication is difficult not to mention language barriers... what do you see rejuvenating this scene - like, what about youth counterculture? There are a lot of young people who feel disenfranchised...

AP: For youth counter-culture to become a positive force like it did in the,60s... I don't know what it will take. We need to radicalise the working class movement, infiltrate it with these humanist ideas, which at one point it used to be...the Dalit movement (an anti-caste movement) could do it if it got beyond fighting just the caste hierarchy...

CS: If we wanted a Hindu-Muslim peace movement, let us put it that way, or an Indo-Pak denuclearisation, green movement, environmentalism, if all these things could be built into a youth counter-culture... how would we get it all stirred up and bubbling?

AP: Yes and also how to break out of the NGO mode and do it on a wider scale turn it into a mass movement ...

CS: If a youth movement could be begun - the Gandhian model is too repressive...

AP: You don't have to follow Gandhi to the letter, even he might have changed his mind after a while...

CS: A model which is celebratory of pleasure, fun and music - that band from Pakistan Junoon in your film, for instance with songs that spoke of love that transgressed boundaries...

AP: Yes... Sufi culture is about that precisely - a celebration of love that erases boundaries.

See p38 for a review of War and Peace.

Chandra Siddan is a filmmaker based in Toronto