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For more than 40 years, Mumbai-based filmmaker Anand Patwardhan has towered over the world of documentary films in India. His activist zeal has fuelled films on the Emergency (Kraanti Ki Tarangein), migrants of Mumbai (Hamara Shahar) and Dalit issues (Jai Bhim Comrade) among others.
A cinematic biography on Patwardhan, one would argue, was waiting to be made. Hindustan Hamara, a film on him by Chennai-based filmmaker R V Ramani, comes closest to that biography.
The film, which recalls Hamara Shahar in its title, premiered at Persistence Resistance, a festival of short films and documentaries, in the city last week. As its 100 minutes began to unspool, it became clear that Ramani was not offering a uni-directional view of Patwardhan.
For most of the beginning, the film catches Patwardhan at screenings — in slums, dingy marketplaces, auditoriums and even a school in Pakistan — offering audiences only fleeting moments with him, his films and its impact on audiences. “The whole purpose of filmmaking is to break masks, including my own.
I wanted to unravel the layers in the person behind the filmmaker,” says Ramani. The layers become visible when Patwardhan talks of his childhood, made up of activist uncles, and an ancestral home where B R Ambedkar once stayed for three months, among others.
As he reminisces about his parents, whom he regrets not having filmed, for a moment, an unknown aspect of Patwardhan emerges from behind the formidable persona. “I was trying to focus on vulnerable moments, away from the activist mode. There was a constant struggle for that moment,” says Ramani.