Anand Patwardhan Reflects on 50 Years of Documentary Filmmaking

Patwardhan was in Dharmshala recently for the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) where his latest ‘The World is Family’ was screened…reports Asian Lite News

When the doyen of Indian documentary filmmaking, Anand Patwardhan, who has been making films for half a century now, says casually that he has not “evolved”, it can be quite a shocker.

For someone, who has made internationally acclaimed documentaries including ‘Bombay: Our City’ (‘Hamara Shahar’) (1985), ‘In Memory of Friends’ (1990), ‘In the Name of God’ (‘Ram ke Nam’) (1992), ‘Father, Son, and Holy War’ (1995), ‘A Narmada Diary’ (1995), ‘War and Peace’ (2002), ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’ (2011), and ‘Reason’, with virtually all his films facing censorship, and eventually being cleared after legal action, it can be said that they are relevant even today.

“I feel like I have been saying the same thing for 50 years. I have made films on different issues but they are interrelated and unfortunately do go out of date. The fact that they are still relevant can be depressing, as the same means that things around have not changed much. Half my life I was fighting the Congress with my art, now it is BJP,” he tells.

While several of his films have been screened once on Doordarshan after court orders, and have remained underutilized, and not entered the mainstream, the filmmaker asserts that there have been several instances where people after watching them have given him feedback he never expected them to. “Once, a man who was part of the Babri Masjid demolition told me that seeing ‘Ram Ke Naam’ ‘woke’ him up,” says Patwardhan, whose cinema deals with religious fundamentalism, sectarianism, casteism, nuclear nationalism, and unsustainable development. 

Patwardhan was in Dharmshala recently for the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) where his latest ‘The World is Family’ was screened. In his most personal film to date, the filmmaker looks at his family through interviews with family members, and old albums and captures the family’s links with the Indian freedom movement and how they formed close ties with Mahatma Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar, and other important figures of the independence movement.

It may not be an overtly political film, which he started shooting in the late 1990s, but is definitely an act of recovering memory at a time when history is being rewritten and looks at his contemporary concerns. “Frankly, I was just recording my parents because I did not want to lose them, they were getting old. After they passed on, it was during the Pandemic that I started editing the home videos, and realized that they must be shared. While the film looks at the past, it also offers a bridge to look at the future divorced from hate politics,” he says about ‘The World is Family’ that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, his fourth film to be screened there.

As the conversation veers towards OTT platforms and the initial euphoria that they would welcome diverse content, Patwardhan asserts that they do not even touch his movies, and even the most popular free video streaming platform puts restrictions on his content.

“For certain kinds of filmmaking, there are funding and pitching sessions, and they do get foreign television channels to put out their films. I have not done that as I want my films to be made in India. Sadly, while there are movies made through international financers, there is no mechanism to support indigenously made films. But then people are making films without money too, so there is hope,” concludes the filmmaker.


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