Saturday, August 26, 2006, DNA INDIA.COM
It took 10 years and a bit of help from the Supreme Court, but celebrated documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan finally managed to get clearance for his film Father, Son and Holy War to be shown on Doordarshan. The apex court directed DD to telecast the national award-winning short film depicting fundamentalism, patriarchy, violence and suppression of human beings within 10 days. For Patwardhan, this was one more victory in a long history of struggles. He spoke to Shabana Ansari about his victory, his faith in the Constitution and his zest to continue raising contentious issues.
There have been several attempts by the government to censor your films and by fundamentalists to disrupt the screenings. What sustains you in the fight against censorship?
Where the enemy is state censorship, my biggest ally is the Indian Constitution that guarantees freedom of expression and dedicated civil liberties lawyers like PA Sebastian and Nitya Ramakrishnan who have successfully defended my films. Although official releases of my films have been delayed by several years in many cases, in the end we were always able to win in court and through public pressure generated by a sympathetic press. Where my opponents have been religious fundamentalists, my allies have been secular Indians of all faiths.
It’s been a long battle for you to get ‘Father, Son and Holy War’ on national television. Do you feel vindicated now that the Supreme Court has ordered the telecast on Doordarshan?
I feel a great sense of relief that this battle is finally over. It is déjà vu since three of my earlier films — ‘Bombay Our City, ‘In Memory of Friends’ and ‘Ram Ke Naam’ — were telecast on Doordarshan only after court orders were passed in their favour. What is great about this judgment is that the Supreme Court has also hauled up Doordarshan and Prasar Bharati for being discriminatory.
What does the judgment mean for other documentary films with controversial themes?
This judgment is not a solution to the problems of documentary filmmakers who want their films shown on national TV. Films that take a stand on issues will have to keep fighting battles with state censorship. However, the positive aspect of such a judgment is that it will set a winning precedent.
Why is it so important for you to screen your films on Doordarshan?
Television as a medium reaches out to millions of people and has a better chance of affecting mindsets and shaping public opinion.
Do you believe that your films have made any impact on issues relating to social justice or communalism?
Call it wishful thinking, but my answer is yes. If I did not believe that my work was making a difference to society, it would have been hard to sustain my involvement. The evidence of impact comes in small ways — from individuals who speak out at screenings, from letters from viewers and from essays written by students.