The dull thud-thudding of a Royal Enfield grows faint as the audience hears four gunshots superimposed on images of Narendra Dabolkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. The beginning of Anand Patwardhan’s 2018 documentary film, Vivek (Reason) is hair raising, chilling to the bone.
Split into 8 chapters, the film holds a mirror to the growing politics of hate in India, another red flag from the Patwardhan camp. Much like his previous films, Raam Ke Naam (In the Name of God), Father, Son and the Holy War, Jung aur Aman (War and Peace) and Jai Bhim Comrade, Vivek (Reason) too pits religious faith against reason, proving how easy it has become to ‘divide and rule’ the people of India, a ploy used by the British in the past to colonize us.
Released on YouTube with Hindi subtitles, the film follows the three-act structure, giving us a background account of the creation of radical factions like the Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as well as the religious violence behind the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and it’s far reaching, corrosive effects even today. Using a monotonous, yet hard-hitting voice over, Patwardhan patiently explains the inner workings of various Right-wing ‘Sanathan Sansthas’, quietly taking root, propagating hatred one step at a time.
The plot gets murkier as we watch on, revealing the causes behind the deaths of Dabolkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Lankesh; the horrifying Dadri lynching; the Una attacks and suicide of Rohith Vemula; the unrest at Jawahar Lal Nehru University and the Film and Television Institute of India, and the mystery surrounding the death of ATS Chief, Hemant Karkare during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. The director refuses to mince words when giving the audience a piece by piece breakdown of the events leading up to these deaths (read: murders), blaming the failure of the current Bharatiya Janta Party government in uniting the people, thriving instead on hateful division. Where the chapters on Rohith Vemula and Dalit atrocities and Sartaj’s account of his father, Mohammed Akhlaq’s lynching by a Hindu mob are heart-breaking, the detailed coverage of the brewing conspiracy behind Karkare’s death stumps you.
The segment on the Ganeshotsav or the tradition of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi is, in fact, the most revealing of the basic disparity between reason and faith with reference to environmental degradation. Here Patwardhan highlights the commercialization of religion through which the masses are encouraged to build bigger and bigger Ganesh statues which, according to the ‘scriptures’, must be immersed in flowing water; i.e., The Arabian Sea or open rivers. These plaster of Paris statues, have over the years, proved to be one of the main causes of water pollution, for which Dabolkar suggests a simple solution: mud statues that can be immersed in a bucket at home and the same water be used to water the houseplants. However, anyone who tries to speak up against this issue of pollution is branded a traitor; one who is against the Hindu cause.
Anand Patwardhan has always been the voice of the marginalized, using extensive interviews to put his point across. However, with Vivek (Reason), the director is showing you what no current media channels will, going far enough to engage with the disillusioned youth, the unemployed ‘stormtroopers’ draped in the national flag, spouting the same venom they have been systematically brain-washed and then fed. What is shocking is the aggression with which these young men scream over one another (and Patwardhan), trying to make a point about which organization Godse belonged to when he killed Gandhi, unable to follow the one set of facts they have been taught and making a mockery of their union. In a separate event, during a Sanathan press conference, a spokesperson exclaims how Patwardhan’s bones should be broken for challenging their institution and the camera pans to show the director standing behind a camera, headphones plugged in, unperturbed. As a person who has worked on documentary films, I have always marveled at Anand Patwardhan’s guts. Where in Raam Ke Naam, a film on the Ayodhya dispute released just before the demolition of the Babri Masjid, he warned the audience of what could happen if Hindu fundamentalism were allowed to rise unchecked, in Vivek he portrays the after-effects of the rampant rise and unseen violence of radical outfits within Hindu and Muslim factions.
Patwardhan’s documentaries may not always find an enthusiastic audience in India but they certainly cannot be ignored, especially given the honest nature of the director’s intent as well as the research that goes into each of his films. Investigating every threat against secular democracy is Patwardhan’s strength, each film an eye-opener that makes you uncomfortable with your own complacency. He is our eyes and ears in a system where blind faith is encouraged. It is evident that wherever there is unrest, there will be Anand Patwardhan with his camera, capturing, observing, analyzing a changing India and it’s changing people.
Watch the movie here –