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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 August, 2003, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
Alone against India's nuclear nationalism
By Hugh Purcell
Producer of War and Peace on BBC Four

Anand Patwardhan
Anand Patwardhan makes films from his own convictions
Anand Patwardhan is India's most distinguished director of documentary films, but he is also the most controversial.

His convictions are at odds with much of modern India and his latest film, War and Peace, is no exception in its criticism of the Indian Government.

In a country where religious fundamentalism is on the rise and political rhetoric reaches hysteria, he is afraid the quiet voice of reason and peace is being overwhelmed by the drum-banging of xenophobia and violence.

Patwardhan is, in essence, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, and that means he is a pacifist, a believer in equality between sexes, classes and creeds and an intolerant believer in tolerance, particularly in tolerance between religions.

This makes him a lonely figure in today's India.


In 1998, when India recommenced nuclear testing, Patwardhan joined the peace movement that was protesting against nuclear devices, civil and military.

War and Peace
Patwardhan challenged the political censorship of War and Peace
He filmed for three years, and his exposure of the Indian nationalist rhetoric behind the atom bomb resulted in censorship.

The film was banned in India for nearly two years while Patwardhan challenged the government in the Bombay High Court on 21 counts.

In June, he won a complete victory and now the film may be seen in the Indian cinema, at its full length of nearly three hours. The BBC version of 70 minutes has been made with Patwardhan.

Public ignorance

War and Peace opens by recollecting Gandhi's funeral, and Patwardhan sums up:

The pro-bomb argument - that it increases prestige and power - is exactly the same argument that British politicians used in the 1960s
"The collapse of socialism saw a revival of bigotry. America had now become our role model.

"Nuclear nationalism and religious fundamentalism were growing. The memory of one who opposed the bomb on moral grounds alone had begun to fade."

What is remarkable about the film is the passion of the argument about the bomb combined with public ignorance about its effects.

Yet before we become patronising we should remember that the pro-bomb argument - that it increases prestige and power - is exactly the same argument that British politicians used in the 1960s.

It is India and Pakistan's bid for a place at the "Top Table".

And the American military-industrial complex, as President Eisenhower described it, is now moving into India.

Against the American way

Patwardhan is not an old-fashioned figure. His world view is a modern one.

Missile poster
India and Pakistan want a place at the "Top Table"
But he opposes the lure of the American way with its multi-nationals and military-industrial complex, standing instead for sustainable development in an Indian context.

Patwardhan's previous film documentaries show clearly his convictions and why they offend the Indian Government.

Father, Son and Holy War revealed the rise of political extremism in the form of Hindu fundamentalism. Bombay Our City investigated the gulf in life-style, and in the very concept of life, between rich and poor in Bombay.

In Memory of Friends is a tribute to a Marxist Sikh who died 50 years ago, but what Patwardhan is really exposing is how history, through icons and figureheads, is being spun for present political purposes.

In the Name of God, about the attack on the mosque in Ayodhya, shows how reason becomes twisted into rage and ends up with a perverse logic that justifies violence.

Bomb survivors

While filming War and Peace, Patwardhan went into enemy territory, Pakistan, and met fellow protesters.

Border clashes between the armies of India and Pakistan made nuclear war a very real threat
He travelled to Japan and met "Hibakushas" or atom bomb survivors.

At the Smithsonian Institute in Washington he met curators whose attempt to mount an exhibition about the effects of the atom bomb was boycotted on Capitol Hill.

In India he joined a peace march through the desert in the footsteps of Gandhi, saw the effects of nuclear testing and nuclear sites on the lives of those who live nearby, and listened to the nationalist rhetoric of the BJP (the governing party) in defence of the bomb.

Over this period the border clashes between the armies of India and Pakistan made nuclear war a very real threat.

Would, could, this confrontation escalate into nuclear war and even engulf other parts of the globe?

Unique view

Patwardhan is a true "auteur" who makes films from his own convictions rather than on commission; who spends his own money and dedicates years of his own time to the making of a movie that becomes a personal statement - a statement that he hopes will be a force for change.

He is both director and technician. He is his own cameraman and, probably more important to him, his own editor.

In his studio he spends hours with all the attention to detail of a perfectionist forming an aesthetic - a use of symbols, motifs and images - that lifts his documentaries above simple "reportage".

War and Peace offers a perspective of a view hardly seen at all in the West - the growing nuclear escalation between India and Pakistan that could plunge us all into ruin.

War and Peace will be broadcast on Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, at 2100 BST on BBC Four.


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