Anand Patwardhan sees his entire oeuvre, of films documenting religious fundamentalism, caste violence and people’s movements, as one long continuum. So much so that he thinks he has been making various parts of the same film for the past four decades.

The story that emerges out of those various parts is not pretty, but they are a heartfelt call to prevent that picture from being damaged further.

“The process of making each documentary is spread over several years. Most of the time it starts with some trigger moment. In the mid-1980s, communal violence was on the rise in many parts of India, with the Hindutva and Khalistan movements going on. My films do not get made in theory. They get made by looking at the material that I have gathered,” says Patwardhan, in an interview to
The Hindu
.

He was in the city to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the 11th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala.

Raam Ke Naam
, made before the Babri Masid demolition, was a warning, he says, but things have turned out even worse than he imagined.

“Lal Das, the secular head priest of the Ram temple Ayodhya who was later murdered, says in the documentary that the VHP people creating trouble over the temple never come to pray. They use religion for political and financial gains. People ask me why I rake up old issues. If we ignore it, things will get even worse. When I shot those footages, I thought I had made a scoop. A few days later, they would do or say something even worse. It is really getting worse that you can’t really keep up with them,” he says.

The sword-wielding men in those early documentaries are forthright in speaking out their bigotry on camera. Some of them are so full of themselves that they let out everything, he says, while he makes them comfortable playing their side and being unobtrusive.

“Most of these films have not been shown widely. Even when the Congress was in power, I had to go to the court to get these films shown on Doordarshan. When you are the ruling party and even then you don’t use the tools that are in your hand, then how is the culture going to change? They have to start using these as educational material to promote secularism and communal harmony,” says Patwardhan.

Patwardhan came into documentary filmmaking by accident, during his college days in Massachusetts, where in the heydays of the Vietnam War, he made anti-war videos and ended up in a US jail. Back in India, he began following the pre-emergency protest movements in Bihar, which led to
Waves of Revolution
. The Emergency days led to the much acclaimed
Prisoners of Conscience
.

“I was making films against the Congress for many years because it was the party in power. Congress was the enemy at that time. But they were not a fascist party like the BJP. We always thought emergency was fascism and dictatorship. But if you compare emergency with the present, it was paradise. This is a hidden emergency. It is much worse for Dalits, Muslims and the working class,” he says.

Dalit oppression

His last major documentary
Jai Bhim Comrade
, a sweeping chronicle of Dalit oppression and resistance in Maharashtra, was made over 14 years.

“The film was triggered by the suicide of Dalit poet Vilas Ghogre, whom I have worked with, in protest against the killing of ten Dalits in indiscriminate police firing in 1997. I started making the film to understand what made him commit suicide. Then it became many other things, including being a film on Dalit protest music,” he says.

The mob violence now, fuelled by fake videos and rumours on whatsapp, has taken quite a different hue, from the days when Patwardhan began documenting such violence.

“Now they don’t need me. They take their own video and proudly spread it,” he says in jest.

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