'Image of Gandhi being used minus his politics'

Updated: Aug 03, 2019, 07:25 IST | Snigdha Hasan

Ahead of a talk on how Gandhi and his philosophy finds a reflection is his films, Anand Patwardhan discusses our increasingly fraught relationship with the Mahatma

'Image of Gandhi being used minus his politics'
Anand Patwardhan

For a documentary filmmaker whose works have received as many awards as perhaps the number of cuts demanded by the Censor Board, what could be a better term to encapsulate his resolve to challenge them in court, year after year, than Satyagraha? "Eclectic" is how Anand Patwardhan defines his oeuvre spanning close to five decades, but when Junoon, the theatre movement, invited him to pick a theme from his films to speak about at their Mumbai Local session, he chose to discuss how Gandhi and his philosophy found its way into his work. The session will be interspersed with clips from Patwardhan's films, with time later for questions and debate.

Having grappled with socio-political themes in his work — from religious fundamentalism, issues of slum dwellers to casteism — Patwardhan, more recently, has been travelling with his documentaries. We spoke to the filmmaker ahead of this evening's talk.

Patwardhan used this image in his film, War and Peace

Tell us about Gandhi's presence in your work.
When Junoon asked me to pick a theme, I felt, over the years, Gandhi has made his way into my films, though not consciously. My first film, Waves of Revolution (1971), was about the movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan, a Gandhian. Then, there was a sequence in Ram ke Nam (1992) where a group of kar sevaks arrives in Ayodhya and declares, "It was good to kill Gandhi." Though different streams of tho­u­g­ht — Marx, Ambedkar, Bhagat Si­ngh — have had an im­pact on my work, I felt my referencing of Gandhi needs exploring, especially in today's context when the ideology that killed him is fully entrenched in power.

You come from a family of Gandhians, too.
Both my father's and mother's families were involved in the non-violent freedom struggle led by Gandhiji.

What are your thoughts on the country's relationship with the Mahatma?
Simply put, we have elected his killers. Pragya Thakur praised Godse in public while campaigning for the elections, and won. But this is not something that has happened suddenly; it has been building up over the years. And today, the government has the backing of the corporate class. It's a complete travesty that because they had no leaders of their own during the freedom struggle, they are appropriating Gandhi and Ambedkar. They are using the image of Gandhi, without his politics. Gandhi has now been reduced to swachhta alone.

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