Vivek/Reason is a four-hour long film on fanaticism

Anand Patwardhan’s latest work, screened in the city on Friday, is a hard-hitting take on the nexus between mainstream politics and the Hindu fringe.
Last Updated 24 December 2018, 12:08 IST

Four hours! That's how long Anand Patwardhan's most recent film 'Vivek/Reason' is.

When it was screened on Friday at the St. Joseph's Auditorium on Langford Road, the filmmaker watched it with the audience, explaining crucial moments in the narrative. He hadn’t intended the film to be so long but the subject demanded special treatment, he said. Once the film began, you understood why.

The eight-chapter film starts off with the death of leading rationalists and thinkers. It then pierces through a maze of radical organisations and their shadowy methods.

Clippings from newspapers, television footage, speeches of leaders, illustrations and even cell phone recordings are used in the film with original footage shot by Patwardhan.

The result is a non-linear, engaging story with varied cinematic techniques and methods.

N A Dabholkar

The movie starts off with the death of Narendra Achyut Dabholkar — social activist, rationalist and author from Maharashtra who was instrumental in getting the Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance passed. His wife Shaila talks about their marriage and how going into denial about her husband's death helped her continue in the anti-superstition movement he had started. One of the most striking terms from Dabholkar's speeches shown is his use of the term 'mental slavery'; a term to describe the thinking that some castes are higher and some are lower.

Govind Pansare

Arguably the section with the largest time slot, this chapter is filled with his speeches, including one where he says that Mahatma Gandhi was killed by Hindu terrorists because he was seen as an enemy of Brahmanism. He also destroys the construct of Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji as a Hindu leader. The king had a large number of Muslim warriors in his army and trusted them with important responsibilities, he says.

A startling fact is revealed in the film by Pansare's daughter-in-law. He was shifted from the Pune hospital (where he was recovering from bullet wounds after being shot at by motorcycle-borne assailants) to Breach Candy Hospital at the behest of the government. There, a checkup revealed his BP and other vital stats were normal. The family was waiting outside the ICU when the doctors suddenly came out and declared him dead.

M M Kalburgi

The Kannada scholar's thoughts on religious faith and his contribution to rational thinking are highlighted in this section. He was shot dead by two assassins who came to his door.

In the Name of the Holy Cow
Patwardhan has interviewed families of those lynched by 'gaurakshaks'.

Mohammed Akhlaq was killed by a mob, suspected of stealing and slaughtering a calf, in Dadri (Uttar Pradesh). The meat found in the house was later forensically tested and found to be mutton. The family says that it was an announcement over temple loudspeakers that caused the agitated mob to charge into their house.

The eldest son, employed in the Air Force, wonders how a mob assembled within minutes of the announcement in their sleepy town. He talks about how the family had always shared cordial relations with everyone — a fact corroborated by their Hindu neighbours who hid some members of the family during the riot.

There are also distressing visuals of Dalits being beaten in Una (Gujarat) for suspected cow slaughter. The film captures the resultant anger, leading to their refusal to clean up the carcasses thereafter, and an unprecedented uprising by the community in Gujarat.

Burning issues

Other issues the film looks at are the resistance of upper castes to The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and their demand for reservations. It also talks about manual scavenging and how upper caste Hindus justify their demand for getting lower castes to do the dirty work. The issue of women's entry to Haji Ali is also showcased.

Terror spread by radical organisations

Organisations such as the Hindu Rashtra Sena and the Sanatan Sanstha are highlighted in the film. Inflammatory speeches and video clips they have put up on their websites elicited disbelieving gasps from the audience. There is detailed coverage of the opposition of the residents of the Goan village where Sanatan Sanstha's headquarters are located. The organisation faced charges of immoral trafficking and hypnotism.

University protests

Incidents in institutions like University of Hyderabad, Jawaharlal Nehru University and University of Allahabad are shown in detail in the second half of the film. The suicide of Rohith Vemula, PhD student at the University of Hyderabad, and the action of the college authorities that led him to it, are explained. A particularly touching segment is when Rohith's suicide note is read out in the form of a voice-over by Patwardhan. There was absolute silence in the theatre during this poignant section.

The film then goes on to talk about the rise of student leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar and how they were branded anti-nationals by Union and state ministers. There is also footage of police brutality on students taking out a protest march at the RSS headquarters, as well as an ear-splitting monologue by Arnab Goswami, who cuts off a student leader on air, branding him 'anti-national'. The audience laughed sarcastically during this part.

Interviews with Kanhaiya Kumar, Anirban Bhattacharya and Umar Khalid revealed their suspicions about how sedition charges were used to target non-existent enemies, divert attention from pressing issues and hijack the discourse.

Malegaon blasts and Mumbai terror attacks

Undoubtedly the most sensational and shocking part of the film dealt with the series of bomb blasts that took place on 8 September 2006 in Malegaon, a town in Nashik, Maharashtra.

Evidence (both video and documentary) shown in the film suggests that the retrieval of information linking Hindu organisations to the blasts discomfited many powerful persons in the country.

Though there was pressure on Hemant Karkare AC, chief of the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad at that time, to go soft on the perpetrators (Pragya Singh Thakur was one of those arrested initially in the case), he refused to budge.

Sometime after the case made a major breakthrough, the 2008 Mumbai attacks happened. In the film, an ATS official says though American intelligence agencies had warned RAW about LeT terrorists coming to Mumbai, the officers didn't keep the men in the force posted. Karkare himself was killed in action during the encounter with terrorists.

The film raises several points — bullets from Karkare body were not from the accused terrorists Ismail's or Kasab's guns, officer K P Raghuvanshi could be seen telling Karkare which way to go though he himself doesn't go there, Raghuvanshi was named ATS chief hours after Karkare's death, the Malegaon news was never given prominence after the Mumbai attacks, several witness statements went missing from the courts in the coming years and all the saffron leaders accused in the case were eventually given a clean chit or bailed out.

Return of Savarkar

Though the film makes a scathing indictment on the Modi government and its use of rhetoric and Hindutva to influence voters, towards the end the narrative becomes even more fiery.

There is a talk about how the legacy of freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, later christened 'Veer' Savarkar, was revived under Modi's rule. Savarkar coined the term Hindutva to create a collective 'Hindu' identity as an essence of India.

From Amit Shah praising Savarkar in a public speech to footage of Savarkar followers admitting they are ready to pick up guns again, the film throws light on the dangers of religious extremism.

Cinematic appeal

Anand Patwardhan has made good use of simple editing techniques. Footage of miracles performed by 'godmen' like Sai Baba are juxtaposed with fiery speeches by rational leaders calling them cheats. From officials at the district or state level to Union ministers and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, no one is spared. This is a truly bold film.

(Published 23 December 2018, 12:18 IST)

Follow us on