BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. India's film industry is known mainly for its lavish, kitschy action-romance musicals which are subject to the often tender sensibilities of the censors. The Central Film Board of Certification is notoriously squeamish about sexual explicitness, graphic violence and cultural defamation. What frequently slips in beneath the radar, however, are serious documentaries which seldom are seen outside of film festivals. Now, though, the Indian censors have screened one such documentary -- an award-winning one titled War and Peace from director Anand Patwardhan -- and are demanding drastic cuts, 21 in all. But the film board isn't targeting sex scenes. It is offended by the film's anti-nationalism theme and seeks to denude the film of politically-charged material. Anand Patwardhan joins us now. Mr. Patwardhan, welcome to On the Media.
ANAND PATWARDHAN: Yeah, thanks.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me please first about the censoring board. Generally speaking what is its role?
ANAND PATWARDHAN: The film censor board is a body which every filmmaker has to submit their films to before it can be released to the public. The problem really is that the censor board these days is completely infiltrated by the Hindu right wing party.
BOB GARFIELD: Now are you talking about the ruling BJP Party or are you talking about the-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ANAND PATWARDHAN:I'm talking about the ruling BJP -- people of their orientation fill the censor board. The irony is that this film won the Best Film Award at the Bombay Documentary Film Festival which was held in February this year, and that festival is organized by the Government of India, by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.
BOB GARFIELD: So the left hand of the government was giving you a trophy while the right hand was giving you a list of mandatory cuts.
ANAND PATWARDHAN: That's right.
BOB GARFIELD:Okay, now let's talk about the cuts themselves. I'm going to assume that these were not issues of, of kissing. They are strictly political in nature.
ANAND PATWARDHAN: Yeah, they are totally political in nature, and the very first cut gives you the clue about what the cuts are all about. The very first cut is that I must delete the sequence in which Mahatma Gandhi was shot by a Hindu fanatic.
BOB GARFIELD:Let's listen to that part of your film now. This scene consists of your narration over newsreel footage of Mahatma Gandhi's funeral. [SOUNDTRACK PLAYS]
MAN: Gandhigi was assassinated two years before I was born. The child in me never stopped asking who could have done this? That our family, like Nathuram Godse and his co-assassins, were upper-caste Hindus cured me forever of any narrow understanding of nation and any vestige of pride in the accident of birth. As the country convulsed in grief, Hindu nationalist organizations like the RSS were banned.
ANAND PATWARDHAN: After Mahatma Gandhi's assassination in 1948, the Hindu right wing RSS Party was outlawed, and today the RSS is very much a part of the -- it's the backbone of the ruling party, and obviously this cut is to re-write the history. They don't want people to be reminded of this historical event.
BOB GARFIELD:Of the 21 cuts that have been demanded, they were demanded according to the guidelines that the censor board ostensibly follows, but your argument is that the supposed violations are not violations at all.
ANAND PATWARDHAN: Yeah, that's right. The irony is that the kind of ideologies that we see represented on the censor board are perhaps the, the very ideologies that the censor guidelines were first devised to try and curtail. I mean if you're talking about hate speech and stuff like that, the, the right wing parties are doing it both -- on both sides -- not just the Hindu right wing; the, the other fundamentalist groups also do it. But what my film is trying to do is to build harmony between people of different religions and even between India and Pakistan.
BOB GARFIELD: Is this unprecedented for the government through the censor board to try to suppress political commentary?
ANAND PATWARDHAN:No, it's not unprecedented in the sense that I have faced similar problems with some of my films in the past with different governments, but I think that the, the ferocity with which this is being pursued now and the number of cuts that they've asked for and-- and the way they are doing it right now is unique. I mean it is something new.
BOB GARFIELD: So India is the world's most populous democracy, and it has enjoyed a tradition of press freedom for example. Why in the world would the government use a fairly obscure documentary film to choose for suppression?
ANAND PATWARDHAN: Well I think the government these days is going through a very insecure phase. They've lost elections in a few states. There was the horrific violence that took place in Gujarat which has made the government squirm all over the country and all over the world. They, they have to answer for what happened in Gujarat where hundreds of Muslims were massacred. So I think the government is, is right now very intolerant of any kind of criticism.
BOB GARFIELD: What's going to happen -- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ANAND PATWARDHAN: With the film?
BOB GARFIELD: -- with War and Peace? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ANAND PATWARDHAN:Funnily enough, the fact that they're suppressing the film has made the film talked about all over the country and now as you are doing in, in other parts of the world. So I think that it's been completely counter-productive for the government to do this. So I'm not comp-- I'm not completely unhappy at the way things are going. In fact I think some of the very issues that I wanted to raise by showing the film are being raised by the, the act of suppression.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Anand Patwardhan, thank you very much.
ANAND PATWARDHAN: Okay. Thanks.
BOB GARFIELD: Anand Patwardhan is a social activist and film director most recently of War and Peace. He spoke to us from his home in Bombay. [MUSIC]