On DD, soon

Print edition : September 22, 2006

THE DOCUMENTARY WILL be screened after an eight-year legal battle between the film-maker and Doordarshan. - BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Supreme Court orders the national broadcaster to screen Anand Patwardhan's film "Father, Son and Holy War" without cuts.

KNOWN for his tell-it-like-it-is style of films, award-winning documentary film-maker Anand Patwardhan rarely makes compromises. Invariably his films end up at the centre of a debate and he in court. It is either the censor board, fundamentalist organisations or the national television networks who give him a rough time. Freedom of speech and expression is a constitutional right he is not prepared to give up or have violated. He has won most of his battles. Yet it was clear from a conversation with Frontline that for him victory is not just about a film getting clearance for screening but about vindicating the rights of all film-makers, writers, and academics; anyone whose voice has been suppressed because officialdom found it too critical.

Nearly 11 years after it was made, Patwardhan's film Father, Son and Holy War will be telecast on national television. In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court not only ordered Doordarshan (DD) to telecast the film without cuts but also passed strictures against Prasar Bharati for not screening it. "Once again the Court has vindicated our stand. Our constitutional rights remain intact," said Patwardhan.

The Court in its ruling stated: "We are shocked by the observation of the Prasar Bharati that `the film is not suitable due to unsatisfactory production quality and the film has nothing specific to convey'... This behaviour of DD would justify us in stating that DD is being dictated by rules of mala fide and arbitration in taking decision with regard to the telecast of the Respondent's film."

Father, Son and Holy War is a two-hour, two-part documentary critique of the male psyche and its relationship with communal violence. The communal riots that tore apart Mumbai soon after the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992, and the serial bomb blasts that shook the city a couple of months later form the context for a narrative that looks at political manoeuvrings and its links to communal violence, masculinity and its relation to violence, the aggression of Indian men towards women, and several other social and economic aspects.

The film won two national awards in 1996 and several international awards. In 2004, it was listed by DOX magazine as one of the 50 most memorable international documentaries of all time. In spite of these accolades, DD has refused to screen it. Patwardhan is almost militant about the importance of DD showing his films: "It has the biggest reach among television channels and I would like all sections of the Indian people to see these films and perhaps think about these issues."

Father, Son and Holy War first ran into trouble in 1998 when DD refused to show the film. Patwardhan petitioned the Bombay High Court that DD was being arbitrary, and had violated not only his right to freedom of expression but the public's right to information.

In February 2001, the Bombay High Court directed DD to show it within six weeks. Prasar Bharati appealed against this judgement in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court asked DD to constitute a committee to review the film. A year later, facing the possibility of contempt of court, DD constituted a committee that included Hindu and Muslim religious leaders. It recommended that the film should be screened.

Prasar Bharati, however, refused. Patwardhan moved the Bombay High Court again in 2003, and it once again ordered DD to screen the film. Prasar Bharati appealed yet again to the apex court, claiming that one part of the film had an "A" (Adult film) certification from the censor board. The Judges saw the film in July this year and eventually delivered this latest judgment.

Anand Patwardhan-JOHNEY THOMAS

The film has to be screened within eight weeks of the judgment. Patwardhan said that thus far DD has not been in touch with him about showing the film. "This is a big victory for all of us who have been struggling with an intolerant establishment. They should not go against the spirit of the judgment," he said. DD did not want to comment on the issue to Frontline.

Speaking about his reasons for making the film, Patwardhan said: "In a politically polarised world, universal ideals are rare. In India as in many regions, the vacuum is filled by religious zealousness. Minorities are scapegoats of every calamity as nationals subdivide into religious and ethnic zones, each seemingly eager to annihilate the other or extinguish itself on the altar of martyrdom. Father, Son and Holy War explores the possibility that the psychology of violence against `the other' may lie in male insecurity, itself an inevitable product of the very construction of manhood."

Part I, entitled Trial by Fire, is a reference to the ordeal the Hindu god Rama puts his wife Sita through to test her fidelity. Patwardhan talks of the Roop Kanwar incident in which a women was burnt alive on her husband's pyre. Within this Patwardhan places the communal fires, which ravaged Mumbai in 1992-93, fires that were supposed to purify the city from evil.

Part II, entitled Hero Pharmacy, examines the issue of manhood in the context of religious strife. The film-maker said: "The Hindu majority is raised on stories of marauding Muslim invaders who raped their women, destroyed temples and forced religious conversions. Today, some Hindus demand revenge for crimes committed centuries ago. They reject non-violence as impotence and set out to be `real' men. Similarly, the Muslim minority, in spite of fears of genocide, will not take things lying down. They too are driven by the imperative to be `real' men. The result is carnage. The macho man lives in every land - where do we go from here?"

As in his other films such as War and Peace (2002), Patwardhan suggests that the educated are more attracted to communal thinking - particularly Hindus - and for this he has been penalised. Pressure from Hindu fundamentalists, he said, caused an American institution to postpone a festival of his films.

Patwardhan's other well-known films - Bombay Our City (1985) on the plight of the urban poor, In Memory of Friends (1990) on the fight for communal harmony in Punjab and Ram Tere Nam (1992) on the Ayodhya crisis - reached Indian audiences only after the judiciary ruled that they should be telecast. War and Peace is still mired in a legal battle.

Several film critics agree that Anand Patwardhan tells it like no other. Few documentary film-makers are able to achieve such an impact. Patwardhan is often criticised for creating desired effects through masterful editing. His response is that if he has to make a point, he will.

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