Filmmaker Anand Patwardhan has grown used to fighting for the right to have his award-winning documentaries seen in his native India. He tends to favor socially critical themes – e.g., the relationship between male insecurity and religious conflict, in Father, Son and Holy War and slum dwellers’ daily struggle to survive, in Bombay our City – that resonate with audiences, but not authorities.
Over the past several years, the country’s Doordarshan National Network (which has the widest reach) refused to air four of his docs. Patwardhan challenged the dnn in court on the grounds of freedom of expression and the public’s right to information, and won each case. But for his most recent film, he confronted the state-run Censor Board.
All films in India must obtain a censor’s certificate, which makes it legal for a film to be screened in public. When Patwardhan submitted War and Peace, a doc about nuclear testing on the Indian sub-continent, the board said it would grant a certificate only if he made 21 cuts to the film, including references to Mahatma Gandhi’s murder by a Hindu nationalist.
True to form, Patwardhan refused and fought the decision all the way to India’s High Court. In the meantime, he also promoted the film internationally and raised awareness about unjust censorship nationally. In April, his efforts were rewarded: the ruling came back that not a single cut was required.
After nearly 30 years of fighting to screen his films, Patwardhan would be forgiven for being worn down. Instead, he remains as focused as ever. Says the filmmaker, ‘The ruling ideology in our country is drifting towards religious intolerance and fascism, and our system is under severe threat. The voice of dissent must not be curbed, but must gather strength until we can reestablish the values for which my parents’ generation fought – independence, democracy and secularism.’