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Indian documentaries commercially viable: Patwardhan

By Frederick Noronha, IANS

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Indian documentary films are commercially viable, but political and financial guts are needed to screen them, says veteran filmmaker Anand Patwardhan.

In Goa to attend the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) where his hard-hitting film "War and Peace" was screened, Patwardhan said in an interview with IANS that the fault for sidelining of Indian documentaries lay with the "gatekeepers" who were deciding what reached the mass audiences.

"It's not the fault of films. Audiences in India are ripe for good documentary films. I've had full houses just with word-of-mouth publicity at almost every screening," he said.

Patwardhan has made socio-political documentaries for nearly three decades.

Some of the earlier films he made were on the prisoners of the Emergency, the slum-dwellers of Mumbai ("Bombay Our City" 1985), religious fundamentalism ("Raam Ke Naam", 1992), sectarian violence ("Father, Son and Holy War", 1995) and the plight of those displaced by development ("A Narmada Diary", 1995).

"I'm fighting for space all the time. I believe Indian documentaries are commercially viable, but somebody needs to have the political and financial guts to show them in a cinema," he said.

"In my previous films too, I've had to win a national award, then go to court, and then force Doordarshan to show my work. It's a rather roundabout way of doing things," he said.

Mumbai-based Patwardhan, whose "War and Peace" was selected for showing at the Goa IFFI, felt that TV was still the "best place" for a documentary to be shown in a diverse country like India.

Talking about his 163-minute long "War and Peace" - dealing with nuclear jingoism and its perils and shot in India, Pakistan, Japan and the US - Patwardhan said the film was held up for a year and a half because of all sorts of censor objections.

"They objected to virtually everything. They wanted 21 cuts. Firstly, references to Gandhi's killer. They also didn't want Tehelka footage (showing BJP office-bearers allegedly taking bribes) shown. Finally, they didn't even want the government's own ministers shown," he said.

Patwardhan plans to shortly show the film in six Pakistani cities. It depicts commonness between the people of the two countries, and yet the threat to both from the nuclear arms race and jingoism in the subcontinent.

Asked about the initiative between the current United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and independent filmmakers to hold a dialogue on whether films should still be censored in a democratic India, Patwardhan said the government had asked for a dialogue, which was yet to take place.

Patwardhan said that under the earlier National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, "censorship" of independent filmmakers had happened due to "definite political reasons" while under UPA rule, the reasons were "part political and part commercial".

Patwardhan argued that documentaries were suddenly getting noticed globally, with the work of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" and other works like "The Corporation" making it to the news big time.

"Enter documentary filmmaking only if you really have something to say. It's not something you would do simply as a career option. Documentary work needs passion," he said when asked what his advice was for young people entering the field.


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