Reason! Anand Patwardhan’s New Film Spellbounds As It Lays Bare The Forces of Hate and Violence
There is every reason every citizen of India must watch Reason
Anand Patwardhan’s Reason, (Vivek) his latest documentary has a running footage of 242 minutes, trimmed down from its original version of 260 minutes – the prints that were screened at Toronto and then at Amsterdam where it bagged the top prize.
The screening had been organized by the Kolkata People’s Film Collective. Not one person in the packed hall moved or spoke or made noise during the entire screening at the Jogesh Mime Academy in Kolkata.
For around four decades, 68-year-old Anand Patwardhan has been making documentaries on many themes that earlier documentary filmmakers would never have dreamt of. He has led the way for similar activists who followed. Says Patwardhan, “In every film I make, I strive to make the elements of filmmaking subservient to what is happening in the film. I measure the success of my films by their ability to make people think about the issues the film generates. Personally, I do not like to use the word ‘art’ because it is used badly and wrongly all the time. I do not think art can be divorced from society. Not that everything has to be political in the sense of everyday politics. But I think everything is political in a deep sense.”
Patwardhan’s career in documentary films began with Prisoners of Conscience (1978) followed by A Time to Rise (1981). He hit the headlines with Bombay, Our City (1985) on the inhuman exploitation and victimization of slum-dwellers in Mumbai that won the national award for the Best Documentary the following year. But the film was promptly banned from public screening by the same government that had bestowed the award on the film. It is a powerful essay on the politics of space and structure that dictate the blueprint of our country’s irrational development.
The film marks a turning point towards a more specific definition of the political documentary that doubles as a social comment.
The film led to an evolution of a movement towards the formation of a counter-cinema. He went on making films, each defining a crusade against the Establishment, against those who are Powerful, fearlessly through threats from the Government that banned his films and awarded them at the same time and through threats from the people he took up in his films, be it the administration, the politics of the land, the police, the law and order machinery and even individuals.
There is every reason every citizen of India must watch Reason.
Reason, the English title, perhaps has an invisible mark of interrogation after the word because in every single chapter of the eight chapters the film including the epilogue, the filmmaker is asking us “What really is the reason for the things that have happened and are happening in the country today?”
Is there a reason? If there is, what is the reason, and the answers are thrown back at you from the unfolding of the narrative which shows facts that defy any question raised about their authenticity.
Cinema is an audiovisual medium which Patwardhan has made ideal use of through talking heads, clips of new reels from television that starkly point out to the irony between fact and fiction, through archival clips and through incidents shot live by him.
The main language of the film is Marathi with English sub-titles and Patwardhan doubles up as the voice-over and the interviewer right through the film. His voice is neutral and objective even when he is asking direct and controversial questions, underlining his restraint that makes him keep emotions away though his emotions are the basic cause that led to the film itself.
For those who are familiar with his work, it is a bit difficult to look at Reason as a single entity because it is a powerful continuum of what he has dealt with in his earlier films. So, it is part of a cohesive whole that makes up the body of his work.
At the same time, it stands apart, like a pillar in the garbage of a country we are currently living in, pointing out again and again that nothing is right in the Indian polity and society, trying to trace the reason why nothing is right and finding none at the end of it except the absence of hope – for the Dalits as a solid whole and Dalits as small entities – manual scavengers, daily labour, construction workers and so on.
Then he covers the victimization and merciless yet diabolic killing of innocent Muslims, he covers people who have dedicated their lives to establish and reinstate a secular India such as Narayan Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi, for students like Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya who instead of researching for their Ph.D. are forced either to draw attention to their cause for justice and equality by committing suicide or fight for their rights granted by the Indian Constitution framed by Babasaheb Ambedkar, their guru, their mentor, their God.
The epilogue against which the credits roll talks about the brutal killing of Gauri Lankesh by Hindu Right Wing people.
You get so deeply sucked into the film that it sometimes makes you think you are a part of what is being shown on screen. At times, the incidents may also make you feel guilty for allowing these atrocities to gather strength over time and over the rule of the Hindu Right that defines the ideology of the Party that presently rules the country with sharp and powerful triggers from its ‘parent’ party the RSS and its dangerous offshoots, one of them the Sanatan Sanstha based in Goa that has gone from strength to strength over the past years.
We are also shell-shocked, for taking the fake news telecast on our TV screens so literally while the screen showing Reason points out how and why they are “fake” without actually telling but only showing! Reason presents “empirical evidence of what is happening to India today”, says the official synopsis. “The overall argument of the film is made more gradually as we understand the ideological forces that have been at play for centuries.”
Patwardhan breaks up his carefully constructed and extremely well-researched information into eight classified chapters where, even if you are an experienced filmmaker, you will forget the aesthetics of cinema as an art or the techniques implemented where cinema is a science and a technique so immersed you get into the diversity and the depth of the varied content. The film begins with 'Slaying of the Demons', and courses through seven segments titled 'Reclaiming Shivaji', 'Legacy', 'Sanatan Religion', 'In the Name of Cow', 'Fighting to Learn, Learning to Fight', 'Terror and Stories of Terror' and 'Fathering the Hindu Nation' before ending with an Epilogue. Each one deals with a separate area the first beginning with the aftermath of the killing of Dabholkar elaborated lucidly with long interviews with his bereaved wife, a practicing gynecologist who never discouraged her husband for his crusade against superstition and his commitment to make India a secular nation.
Though we are no strangers to most of the information that is dug into for the back story, we see the same things in a new light that is as shocking as it is incredible.
In Slaying of the Demons, Patwardhan uses the metaphor of a speeding two-wheeler with its headlight shining in the dark, its wheels punctuating holes of ominous sound into the night for the first chapter that charts the events to the murder of Dabholkar who is also seen through old clips coming across as a warm, charming and modest personality even when he speaks for his cause and demonstrates the falsity of magic like spewing gold dust or piercing the tongue with a small arrow. Then we watch the growth and popularity of Govind Pansare who is a firebrand and does not wrap his speeches in ornamentation. The M.M. Kaalburgi murder also is stated.
The biggest shock is learning from the film that the death of the Chief of the Anti-Terrorist Squad Hemant Karkare was a diabolic murder pre-planned and executed not by the Muslim terrorists but by members of a Hindu Rightist Wing. This was to avenge his investigations into the Malegaon blasts.
Karkare had earlier unearthed the actual truth of the 2006 Malegaon blasts after, being dissatisfied with the first reports, he personally went to Malegaon and discovered three laptops belonging to ABVP student leader Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Amritananda alias Dayanand Pandey, Ramesh Upadhyay alongwith a serving Army Officer Lt.Col. Prasad Shrikant Purohit. Though they were all arrested later according to the film, once the BJP came to power, they were all released on bail.
Most of the accused belonged to a radical Hindutva group called Abhinav Bharat with prior links to Sangh Parivar organizations.
Though all this is briefly summarized on the NET, the film unravels the truth through two lengthy interviews by Patwardhan. One is of S M Mushrif, the former IG police of Maharashtra, whose book Who Killed Hemant Karkare? challenges the theory that Karkare was killed by terrorists from Pakistan.
The other is the public prosecutor in the Malegaon blasts case, who says that evidence was tampered within the premises of the courts, leading to the acquittal of Sadhvi Prachi and others for the Malegaon blasts, all of whom were arrested when Karkare was the head of Mumbai ATS. The former chief of ATS, chief, ATS, K P Raghuvanshi, had concluded that the Malegaon blasts were the handiwork of Muslims.
Immediately after Karkare’s tragic death, Raghuvanshi was reinstated as the chief of ATS. Pansare had passed a resolution to hold 150 meetings across the state of Maharashtra to discuss the book. The film questions whether Pansare was made the next target of the ones threatened by the expose and finally killed while on a morning walk with his wife who survived with injuries.
The film also shows the massive Dalit assertion in Una, Gujarat, where members of the community organized themselves after four Dalits were publicly flogged. We get to see clippings of the flogging not once but twice in the film to drive home the point. His earlier film Jai Bhim Comrade graphically reflects the lives of the manual scavengers who earn around Rs.72 per day and are not provided with shoes, masks and other protective gear.
One more among the many reminders of our total loss of secularism and move towards a Hindu Right dominated society is the glorification and almost sanctification of Veer Savarkar who was proved to be the main brain behind Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. He wrote five mercy appeals to the administrators and was released on condition that he would “cooperate” with the British which he did!
The letters are shown on screen. The one who betrayed his country is now being glorified as a patriotic hero with portraits installed in public spaces.
The Hindi name of the film is Vivek which means “conscience.” Whose conscience are we talking about anyway? Is it ours, or is to trigger the conscience - if they still have one that is – of all the factions in society and politics that are actively claiming to establish a Hindu nation, though their understanding of what “Hindu” means could raise many questions!
The last word should rightly go to Mohammad Sartaj of the Indian Air Force, son of Mohammad Akhlaq, the Dadri ironsmith who was lynched by cow vigilantes on suspicion of possessing beef though they ate mutton and not beef, says: "There is no country like India. I'm lucky to be born here."