tue 20/08/2019

DVD: War and Peace | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: War and Peace

DVD: War and Peace

Nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan, and wider issues, in insightful documentary

An ideology backed up by missiles, at the heart of Anand Patwardhan's 'War and Peace'Detail of cover image, Second Run DVD

Indian documentarist Anand Patwardhan is far less known outside his native country than he deserves to be, and his 2002 film about nuclear proliferation on the subcontinent War and Peace (Jang aur Aman) is a good introduction to a filmmaker who has been tackling issues of fundamentalism for more than four decades.

There’s no direct link to Tolstoy here, although War and Peace’s opening scenes reprise the assassination of the Russian writer’s Indian disciple, Mahatma Gandhi. The episode serves as a reminder of how Gandhi’s vision of independence has been hijacked by the growing nationalism of the Indian People's Party, or BJP (booklet comments from Mark Cousins compare its global significance to that of America’s Republican Party: worth thinking about).

His investigation of the BJP’s 'nuclear nationalism' rings home most strikingly

Patwardhan started his film in 1998, shortly after nuclear testing in India that was followed almost immediately by the same in Pakistan. Over four years he assembled a mass of footage (the film runs to 134 minutes), beginning with the history of India’s experiments with nuclear fission, from the country’s first tests in 1974 (the success of which was communicated by the singularly inappropriate code word, “Smiling Buddha”). The main body of War and Peace follows Indian grassroots reactions, expanding latterly to the civil energy programme, as well as how the nuclear issue is propagandised by politicians, and marked, often in colourful style, on a popular level.

Patwardhan was able to take two trips to Pakistan to investigate similar reactions in society there, as well as to Hiroshima and Nagasaki; his journey to the US looks revealingly at the ambiguities of history behind the dropping of the 1945 bombs, and how they’re treated in the national consciousness there today. Patwardhan makes it clear how the US, seen as the “big brother” by both India and Pakistan, has encouraged attitudes that view nuclear capability as a sign of new international status, to be pursued despite the huge economic costs involved.

But it’s his investigation of Hindutva, specifically the BJP’s “nuclear nationalism”, that rings home most strikingly (that party's leader AB Vajpayee, who was India’s prime minister in 1998, had his initials appropriated into the moniker “Atomic Bomb”). Patwardhan’s exposure of such rabble-rousing tactics reveals his endemic suspicion of the elite – corruption within the defence industry’s political links is duly noted; the director’s dominant point of reference, and implicit grounds for optimism, rests with his interactions with ordinary people.

It’s a work of great breadth and considerable depth, the wider context well covered in academic Akeel Bilgrami’s booklet essay. A succinct filmed interview with Patwardhan gives background, including his efforts (not for the first time in his career) to fight the Censorship Board’s restrictions on the film, and how that battle was finally won at High Court level. Extracts from the director’s 2005 appearance on Pakistani television following the broadcast of his film there are another excellent extra – as intelligent a piece of TV panel discussion as anything Newsnight or the like ever comes up with in our neck of the woods.

Patwardhan started his film in 1998, shortly after nuclear testing in India that was followed almost immediately by the same in Pakistan

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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