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Directors in Focus - Anand Patwardhan’s Cinema of Engagement

For the past three decades, nonfiction filmmaker Anand Patwardhan has used moving images to fearlessly pursue controversial issues in the contemporary social and political life of India. Frequently banned by state-controlled television (whose censorship the filmmaker has challenged in the courts), his films have been widely seen and acclaimed abroad. With a birthright of activism—his family was aligned with Mahatma Gandhi’s movement of passive resistance against injustice and violence—Patwardhan participated in protests against the Vietnam War, served as a volunteer for Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Worker’s Union, and was active in the democratic rights movement during the state of emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in the mid-1970s. With his camera rarely far from the action, he became a chronicler of the darker side of Indian democracy by exposing the mistreatment of workers, the dangerous political implications of religious fundamentalism, the growing threats of nuclear testing, and the rising tide of ethnic and religious violence. With his newest work, the award-winning War and Peace, Patwardhan confirms his unique position in celebrating the commitment of ordinary people and joining them with his camera to advocate for peace. 


Director Anand Patwardhan in Person September 20
September 20 (Friday) 7 pm
September 26 (Thursday) 7 pm
September 28 (Saturday) 7 pm

War and Peace (Jang aur Aman)

Directed by Anand Patwardhan
India 2002, video, color, 148 min.
English, Hindi, Japanese with English subtitles

Winner of the International Critics’ Prize at the Sydney Film Festival, where it was recognized “for its blending of crusading passion [and] intellectual rigor,” War and Peace presents a timely exploration of the India-Pakistan conflict in Kashmir and the volatile admixture of religion, patriotism, and nuclear armament that underpins it. Filmed over three tumultuous years in India, Pakistan, Japan, and the United States, this epic documentary is a journey that seeks out efforts for peace in the face of global militarism as it transforms the particulars of the conflict into a universal statement against violence and nationalism. Framing the film with the murder of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, Patwardhan injects a measure of sorrow into his study of the subcontinent’s trajectory toward unabashed militarism and nuclear testing. But it is a sorrow leavened with ample doses of black humor and moving testament to ordinary people who reject the politics of hatred.

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September 21 (Saturday) 7 pm

Prisoners of Conscience

Directed by Anand Patwardhan
India 1978, 16mm, b/w, 45 min.
English and Hindi with English subtitles

Hailed by scholars as a bold attempt to challenge official misrepresentations about the existence of political prisoners within India’s borders, Patwardhan’s early film remains an important historical record of a tumultous period in the country’s modern political history. Prisoners of Conscience focuses on the state of emergency imposed by Indira Ghandi from June 1975 through March 1977, during which more than 100,000 people were arrested without charge and imprisoned without trial. But as Patwardhan demonstrates, political prisoners existed before the Emergency and continued to exist well after it was rescinded. 

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Screens with Prisoners of Conscience (see above)

A Narmada Diary

Directed by Anand Patwardhan and Simantini Dhuru
India 1995, video, color, 60 min.
English and Hindi with English subtitles

The Sardar Sarover Dam in western India, linchpin of a mammoth development project on the banks of the Narmada River, has been criticized as uneconomical and unjust. It will benefit prosperous urbanites at a cost borne by the rural poor. When completed, the dam will drown 37,000 hectares of fertile land, displace more than 200,000 Adivasi—the area’s indigenous people—and cost up to 400 billion rupees. As often is the case with such mega-projects, the ecological, cultural, and human costs have never been estimated. Patwardhan and Dhuru’s video diary focuses on the nonviolent “Save Narmada Movement,” which has spearheaded agitation against the dam and emerged, in the face of inadequate government resettlement programs, as one of the most dynamic forces in India today. 


September 21 (Saturday) 9:15 pm
September 27 (Friday) 9:15 p

In the Name of God

Directed by Anand Patwardhan
India 1990, 16mm, color, 90 min.
English and Hindi with English subtitles

In the Name of God focuses on the campaign waged by the militant Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to destroy a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya, said to have been built by Babar, the first Mughal Emperor of India. The VHP claim the mosque was built at the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram over a razed Hindu temple. Filmed prior to the mosque’s demolition in 1992 and the subsequent religious violence that has displaced thousands of Muslims and claimed more than 5,000 lives in India and Pakistan, In the Name of God examines the motivations of the Hindu militants as well as the efforts of secular Indians to combat the religious intolerance and hatred that has seized India in recent years.

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September 27 (Friday) 7 pm

Father, Son and Holy War (Pitra, Putra aur Dharamyuddha)

Directed by Anand Patwardhan
India 1994, 16mm, color, 120 min.
English, Rajastani, and Gujarati with English subtitles

In India, as in many regions, religious and ethnic zealotry has emerged as a significant force in contemporary society. Father, Son and Holy War explores this phenomenon in two parts, positing that the psychology of violence against “the other” may be a symptom of male insecurity. Part 1 investigates controversies surrounding fire that have consumed India in recent years: feminist protests at the death of a young bride who was thrown on her husband’s funeral pyre in the traditional rite of “sati”; communal fires that ravaged Bombay after the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya; purification fire rituals practiced by the upper castes. Part 2 examines concepts of masculinity in the context of religious strife. Raised on centuries-old stories of Muslim atrocities and calls for their continued revenge, some Hindu men reject nonviolence as a form of impotence and seek, as do some of their Muslim counterparts, to confirm their manhood through extreme acts of violence.

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