Behind the images of an aspiring pluralistic democracy and a rising economic superpower, there exists an other India. One that is swept by continuous waves of religious and ethnic violence, more often than not abetted by the highest levels of government and law enforcement. One that is haunted by an acute rise in mass poverty and social inequality, to some extent still hinging on the enduring legacy of the caste system. One that is driven by a quest for militarism, steeped in a long history of Partition and nationalist militancy. This reality of India, a complex and painful entanglement of religion, ethnicity, warfare, gender and class, has been systematically neglected by most if not all traditional mass media, locally as well as internationally. One could say that countering this indifference is exactly what defines the value and politics of Anand Patwardhan’s documentary work: the commitment to report on the harrowing injustices that are left on the wayside of contemporary history, to oppose the hegemonic discourses and intervene in the debates raging through the political landscape. Moreover, in relentlessly focussing on the struggles that his own country is facing, his films do not only address local questions, but also stir up some of the key issues playing out in the world at large, notably problems of identity, community, racism and populism.
And yet, the practice in which his films are inscribed is not the informative or investigative model of journalism, it is altogether something different: cinema. It is precisely through the aesthetics of cinema that Patwardhan accomplishes what is perhaps the essential politics of his work: the construction of a multifaceted world in which actions, gestures and words are displaced from their frame of common assumptions of condition and fate, and are given as possible tools of empowerment.