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Short is Sweet

Rebel filmmaker Anand Patwardhan’s War and Peace hits the box office for the first time in India. Having survived three decades of fighting the system, this could finally spark a revolution for documentary makers, writes Sanjukta Sharma

Firebrand filmmaker, rabble-rouser, demagogue, anti-establishment, Leftist. These have been the numerous labels thrust on Anand Patwardhan. Accused of talking to the already converted, he has received flak for accepting the national award from the government of India when his battles against censorship, rather than his incisive, politically-charged documentaries, have defined him in the public eye. That concocted image is finally going to drop. One of his seminal works, War and Peace — a documentary championing peace activism in the age of militant globalisation and war — has been released in a Mumbai multiplex. At last, Patwardhan is reaching out to the multiplex audience — the urban mass that is redefining the idea of a box-office hit.

Time To Rise: Still from War and Peace
It is a monumental event for Indian cinema. No Indian documentary has had a theatre release anywhere in the world. With the release of War and Peace in two multiplexes in Mumbai, a sense that documentaries are a lucrative form of entertainment is also taking shape. Perhaps Michael Moore has a lot to do with it.

For Patwardhan, it is a victory of faith. After a year’s legal battle, the Bombay High Court cleared his film without any cuts despite being banned by the censors. “I have not made my films keeping an audience in mind; but the feeling that I was not able to reach out to the masses is something I have had to struggle with for years. In India, the method of distribution is TV but because of the nature of films there has been a big battle to get them screened. Only one film, Bombay Our City, has been shown on TV, after a four year court case which reached the Supreme Court,” he says.

Ribbons for Peace
Fishing: In the Sea of Greed
Occupation: Mill Worker
A Narmada Diary
Father, Son and Holy War
We are not your Monkeys
In the Name of God
In Memory of Friends
Bombay Our City
A Time to Rise
Prisoners of Conscience
Waves of Revolution
Fun Republic (known among select audiences for screenings of short and foreign films) and inox warmed up to the idea of releasing War and Peace. Fun Republic has slotted the screening for a week (from June 24, 8.30pm); at inox it releases on July 1, also for a week.

For the multiplexes, this release is an exercise in brand-building, rather than commercial gain. Niranjan Prakash, Head of Marketing and Sales, Fun Republic, says, “It is important that we cater to niche audiences because it is part of the way we want to build our brand. We don’t want to be seen just as a theatre, but as a family entertainment center and films like War and Peace, though not commercially lucrative, boosts our image for the urban audience. Ticket prices are the same, but publicity for this film will be different. We are handing out flyers at the box office so that people know what they can expect out of the film.” inox officials confirm that they are open to the idea of screening more documentaries as long as a censor certificate (or a court order in Patwardhan’s case) is produced. “It also saves us the hassle of dealing with distributors. It is a direct deal with the filmmaker,” says Deepa George, Head of Corporate Communications, inox.

Returns from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 ranged between Rs 15 to 20 lakh for these multiplexes, but audience turnout was substantial. From War and Peace, their expectations are similar. The film moves seamlessly between home and abroad with his voice leading the narrative from India’s own brand of jingoism to stark images of American chauvinism and its penetration among the elite of the developing world. The backdrop for this new world order is Gandhi’s memories evoked in the unapologetically moral voice of the filmmaker.

Having survived three long decades of fighting the system, the time is right for Anand Patwardhan. This time, he will have the people’s verdict.


June 25 , 2005

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