‘My films are nothing without the causes they speak about and the people they champion’

Veteran Documentary Filmmaker Anand Patwardhan‘s Acceptance Speech after being honoured with V Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award at the Mumbai International Film Festival 2014 on February 3, 2014 in Mumbai, India

I have mixed feelings this evening as I accept this Lifetime Achievement Award. Of course I am overjoyed that our work is recognized and deeply grateful to all those who must have struggled to make this come about.

I have been very lucky. I was lucky to have the parents, the family and the friends that I did, who gave me such unstinting and ungrudging support through all the times when our work was frowned upon by the authorities and ignored by the market. I am also lucky that despite opposition, many of my films got recognition both in India and abroad.

Here is where my mixed feelings come in. My films are nothing without the causes they speak about and the people they champion. Today if I ask myself whether these films really made a difference to the people and the causes they are about, I would have to admit that the difference is marginal.

Let me give just a few examples:

Prisoners of Conscience (completed in 1978) was about political prisoners in Independent India. Today our jail population continues to rise as our system refuses to grant bail even to those who have been in detention without trial for years. As I speak many prisoners have gone on a hunger strike to protest this long denial of bail.
Bombay Our City (completed in 1985) was about the macabre practice of demolishing the makeshift homes of the homeless. Demolitions are still in full swing as we continue to criminalize the poor instead of questioning a development paradigm that forces urban migration and urban poverty.

In Memory of Friends (1990) and Ram ke Naam/In the Name of God (1992) were about the rise of sectarianism and violence in the name of religion. Today we may be on the brink of once again bringing to power those who were nurtured with the ideological mindset that killed Mahatma Gandhi, who engineered and celebrated the demolition of the Babri Mosque, who connive in or condone the massacre of minorities. Amongst those attacked and then denied justice, it also creates a thirst for revenge and counter-violence.

Father, Son and Holy War (1995) was about our patriarchal system and the connection between religious violence and machismo. Today we are witnessing increasing attacks on women, communal assaults that include gang rape and a popular culture that celebrates manliness. And we have a prime ministerial candidate who publicly boasts of his 56 inch chest size even as his crimes of omission and commission during the pogroms of 2002 are forgotten and forgiven by the entire corporate world and its embedded media.

A Narmada Diary (1995) was about the destruction and displacement caused by the gigantic Sardar Sarovar dam and about a peoples’ movement that forced the World Bank to stop further funding to the project. Today the dam is almost complete yet the water instead of reaching the thirsty in drought prone areas, is being electrically pumped to serve water-parks and promenades in urban Gujarat.

War and Peace (2002) was about India’s tragic decision to join the infamous nuclear club and become a nuclear weapons wielding State. As Pakistan replied in kind, the region plunged into nuclear insecurity and uncertainty. Today our departing Prime Minister when recounting the few achievements he is proud of, lists at the forefront a nuclear deal with the USA that lifted an embargo on India’s nuclear program and allowed it to plan a huge increase in nuclear plants across the country. In the wake of Fukushima when the world is finally waking up to the fact that nukes are not only unsafe, they are unaffordable, India is busy buying second-hand Chernobyls to populate our tsunami susceptible coastline.

Jai Bhim Comrade (2012) was about the music of protest of a people who for thousands of years were denied education, forced to do menial jobs and regarded as “untouchables”. According to official government figures, every day somewhere in this country, two Dalits are killed and three raped. In our film one of the many groups protesting these atrocities was the Kabir Kala Manch (the KKM). By the end of the film KKM members had been forced to go underground after police began to brand them as Maoist “Naxalites”. After Jai Bhim Comrade won awards including one at the last MIFF, and was extensively written about, we formed a KKM Defence Committee. Finally the KKM decided that with civil society support, it was worth it to come overground. They did a non-violent Satyagraha by singing outside the Maharashtra Assembly and were arrested. Three of them eventually got bail thanks to a High Court order, but 10 months later, three others are still in jail. They all gave themselves up voluntarily, expressing faith in democracy. Their only weapons were their songs. Today it is really our political and judicial system that is in the dock.

So I say that my feelings are mixed. Added to the bitter sweetness of this moment is the fact that my parents to whom I owe everything are not here anymore. Nor are many of the protagonists in my films, people like Pujari Laldas, Jaimal Singh Padda and Shahir Vilas Ghogre who gave their lives for what they believed in. And during this long journey I have also lost many of my beloved and admired friends in the filmmaking fraternity, people like Pervez Merwanji, Saratchandran, Sato Makoto, Tareque Masood and now, Peter Wintonick.

I am sorry for taking so much of your time. I am deeply grateful that my work, and through it, the work of so many others, has been recognized. I only hope that such awards will make our work and our causes more visible. Once that happens on a bigger scale, I am confident that change will come. Thank you !

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