War and Peace addresses the prime question of the moment, something which has been shaping itself threateningly into a mushroom cloud over South Asia during the past few months (or should we say decades - see the interview with Anand Patwardhan on p22-23 of this issue).
Patwardhan's three hour long film is epic in its scale through its rich collage of small voices from four different countries -- India, Pakistan, US and Japan. Despite fears to the contrary, the film turned out to be a massive feel-good and a hope-inducing documentary, due to the space given to voices for de-militarisation and grassroots peace process.
My favourite parts were those shot in Pakistan where the voices of dissent from the hawkish party line spans the whole range, from those of schoolchildren to those of retired military generals. Sufi dancers and pop bands emphasise love and erasures of boundaries, appealing to the general South Asian propensity to mystical abandonment and romantic longings -- love is the only answer.
On the other hand there is the Dalit movement that critiques the caste system and traditional Hindu hierarchy through street theatre and music. The Dalits and the environmental groups, measuring the endangerment of the indigenous populations living near the nuclear test areas, are the other voices that lead one to hope.
And putting it all in the global context, he includes a section on Japan dealing with post-nuclear horrors and a section on the US dealing with the censorship of the Smithsonian curators who questioned the need to drop the H-bomb on Japan - challenging the official US version of history.
While the satirical exposé of popular celebrations of the bomb are close to the black humour of Michael Moore, Patwardhan's emphasis is on the peace movement with Gandhian overtones, to which he gives equal, if not more, space to in the film.
Patwardhan offers a postscript: a couple of his films due to be shown in the Museum of Natural History in New York as a part of a series on Hinduism recently were almost cancelled because of threats from Hindu nationalists. The US government's anti-terrorist stance looked the other way when faced with a Hindu fanatic attack on freedom of speech. But that does not surprise Patwardhan.
The US encouragement of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1980s has led to the current impasse in South Asia. He points to the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan as the moment when the religious genie was released from the bottle. And the eventual fall of the Soviet Union led to a weakening of the left and the rise of religious fanaticism and nationalism everywhere. It goes without saying, a worldwide viewing of War and Peaceis necessary if we are to build a South Asian solidarity movement.
Where to get good films...