Eleven years later

BY sevanti ninan| IN Media Practice | 10/10/2006
Between them, Doordarshan`s dutiful telecast and Patwardhan cinematic style shattered Sunday morning`s peace.

Sevanti Ninan

Documentary film makers can be provocative, and Anant Patwardhan is more provocative than most. He has a cinematic style that makes him a darling of film festivals and foreign film critics but leaves humbler viewers wondering whether he is allergic to structure or simply finds it unfashionable.  Most of his documentaries careen from one set of stark images to another, making totally different points and then careen back to an earlier point.

?Father, Son and Holy War?Trial by Fire,? served up last Sunday morning by Doordarshan under duress, opens with Hindu voices during the 1993 riots  calmly  discussing how they targeted Muslims. The picture on the screen is burning remnants of shops and homes. Then it mentions in passing how a film that set out to look at communal violence ended up looking at patriarchy, and plunges onward into footage of  the Shiv Sena haranguing its followers, to a godman elsewhere haranging listeners, then to a secular voice, then to  a quick history lesson on  the absence of war in the civilisations of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, then to Indian goddesses tamed by male gods, to witch hunting as an instrument of patriarchy, to Sati in Deorala, then to the Ahmedabad rath yatra in 1985, then to a couple at a yagna conducted  for having sons, and then?.you get the picture.  And the title, ¿Trial by Fire,¿ is a reference to Sita¿s agni pariksha, or trial by fire in the Ramayana.

If the sequencing is dizzying, each sequence is searing. Patwardhan manages to scald your consciousness without raising his voice.  Two hours later  you are limp with the impact of  having ingested baldly narrated sequences of  matter of fact hatred, casual savagery, and  chilling  tradition both Hindu and Muslim. And with the effort of trying to hold on to the overarching logic of his visual tirade. No wonder poor Doordarshan balked again and again from showing it, fielding a lawyer who made amazing, even hilarious assertions. The honourable justices of  the High Court and Supreme Court were however not amused. They though a public broadcaster should show India its ugly face.  So DD finally gave in, serving up gory lessons on communal hatred, patriarchy, the genitals of the enemy and  male impotence on a Sunday morning, at 10 am. Its famous blue screen announced, ?This film is being telecast as per directive of the Honorable Supreme Court of India.? Just in case you thought this lunacy was all its own.

India has produced Anant Patwardhan and the Government of India has gifted us Doordarshan, and the two are destined to meet time and again after tortuous legal battles. This is the fourth film the film maker has managed to get on to Doordarshan via the courts. Its called proving a point. Given the list of  film festivals each of his films is feted at you cannot help wondering why our privately owned TV channels don¿t show these brilliant films either. May be they are as squeamish as Doordarshan.

Part of the problem this time around was that one of the two parts of the film, titled ¿Hero Pharmacy¿, was given adult certification by the censor board. How can a public broadcaster show an A certified film, DD¿s lawyers pleaded again and again before various courts. Perhaps because its argument did not cut ice with the honourable justices the public broadcaster went away and did something sneaky just a few days before showing ?Father Son and Holy War? ¿as per directive¿.  It telecast ?Jism? which has Bipasha Basu and John Abraham getting physical. To spite the Justices doubtless, and binge on some advertising. Note though, that a new trend has been set.

The saga of Patwardhan¿s film and Doordarshan¿s dodging circa 2006 demonstrates two things. A film made in one political climate and shown in a totally different one eleven years later can have unintended resonances. The Mumbai of 1993 (still called Bombay)  smouldering in flames lit by macho Hindus post-Ayodhya, surely helped  set the stage for the Mumbai of 2006 with its bombed commuter trains and shattered lives.  Those victimised this year will scarcely want to be reminded of past sins of commission. But Sunday morning¿s telecast did just that: Ahmedabad in 1985, Bombay in 1993--it unspooled the stepping stones to alienation that preceded the Gujarat riots of 2002.

The other rather telling insight is from Doordarshan¿s arguments in court. Here for instance, on record, is DD¿s view of its audiences as reported by the Supreme Court judgement: ?Learned Counsel also submitted that the telecast of the film is likely to give rise to communal violence and riots and that Doordarshan has reached the remote corners of the country. It has a wide audience which mainly consists of illiterate and average persons who will be largely affected due to screening of the film.?

Illiterate and average persons?  Really? Now we know why Doordarshan telecasts are content to be so shoddy. 

Feedback: sevanti_ninan@yahoo.co.in

Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More