Veteran Indian documentary filmmaker of international repute Anand Patwardhan who was conferred the V Shantaram Lifetime Achievement Award at Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) 2014 in his acceptance speech took on both the Congress-NCP state government’s excesses against groups like the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) and expressed his misgivings with the huge support being shown for the BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
Beginning with admitting to mixed feelings about the award, even while expressing gratitude, the film maker with an oeuvre which spans over half a century, minced no words. “I’ve been lucky to get support of my family and friends when my work was frowned upon by authorities and ignored by the market,” he began adding, “I’m also lucky because despite opposition, many of my films got recognition both in India and abroad.” The auteur brought up examples from his work to point out how issues he raised continue to fester.
Referring to Prisoners of Conscience, a film about political prisoners in Independent India he made 36 years ago he said, “Today our jail population is rising as our system refuses bail to even those in detention without trial for years.” On the issue of homeless in Mumbai with reference to his Bombay, Our City (1985) on “the macabre demolishing of makeshift homes of homeless,” he deplored how such demolitions go on and said, “We continue to criminalise the poor instead of questioning a development paradigm that forces urban migration and poverty.” Reminding the audience of the dangers of sectarianism and religious violence he brought up In Memory of Friends (1990) and Ram Ke Naam (1992).
“Today we maybe on the brink of bringing to power, once again, those nurtured in the ideological mindset that killed Mahatma Gandhi, who engineered and celebrated the Babri demolition, who connive in or condone massacre of minorities,” he observed and pointed out, “Those attacked and denied justice then thirst for revenge and counter-violence.” Bringing up Father, Son and Holy War (1995) – which dealt with patriarchy and the connect between religious violence and machismo, he lamented, “Today we’re witnessing increasing attacks on women, communal assaults like gangrape and a popular culture that celebrates manliness,” and underlined, “We have a prime-ministerial candidate who publicly boasts of his 56-inch chest even as his crimes of ommission and commission during the 2002 pogrom are forgotten and forgiven by the entire corporate world and its embedded media,” he said without naming Modi.
But that wasn’t all that Modi faced the music for. Patwardhan brought up the destruction and displacement caused by the Sardar Sarovar dam which he had vividly documented in A Narmada Diary (1995). “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,” he averred.
The filmmaker whose War and Peace (2002) was about India’s joining the nuclear club, Pakistan’s going nuclear in reaction and the sparking off of the nuclear race in the subcontinent took didn’t spare PM Manmohan Singh too. “Our departing PM when recounting the few achievements he’s proud of, lists the nuclear deal with the US,” he mocked and lashed out, “In the wake of Fukushima when the world wakes up to how unsafe and unaffordable nukes are, India’s busy buying second-hand Chernobyls to populate our tsunami-susceptible coastline.”
He also tore into Maharashtra’s Cong-NCP government while bringing up Jai Bhim Comrade (2012). The film about the music of protest spoke of the plight of Dalits. “After we shot with KKM, they had to go underground as police branded them Naxalites. Arrested during a satyagraha outside Mantralaya and three of them still languish in prison.”
Earlier the Governor of Maharashtra K Shankarnarayanan inaugurated the festival which both the CM Prithviraj Chavan and Union I&B minister Manish Tewari stayed away from, in the presence of Secretary, I&B, Bimal Julka, Festival Director, V S Kundu, members of the Jury and several prominent film-makers.