Ahead of the 2019 general elections, over 100 members of the film fraternity— most of them Independent filmmakers— have appealed to the people of India to vote out the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power.
Among the 124 campaigning signatories are veteran documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and S Durga director Sanal Sasidharan, who started the online movement along with filmmaker Jiju Antony.
As the joint statement began gaining significant support, we reached out to Sasidharan and Patwardhan to talk about how ousting a political party from power will serve their purpose, what is the alternative and whether they feel hopeful.
“I thought it was high time to talk and take stand for our democracy. I feel if this party comes back in power then it will destroy our democracy. They are promoting wild ideas and making random people without any high qualification head of government institutions,” said Sasidharan referring to controversial sackings, resignations and appointments under the BJP government.
Sasidharan was involved in a long battle with the Prasoon Joshi-led Censor Board over the title of his last film—S Durga, which was originally named Sexy Durga. S Durga was dropped from the International Film Festival of India 2017 by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry days before its scheduled screening at the Indian Panorama section of the festival.
“There is no space for dissent in this government. There is just a unidimensional viewpoint that we are forced to oblige. They appointed Mr Shyam Benegal to revamp the Censor Board and suggest modifications in the Cinematograph Act. He submitted some recommendations to the I&B Ministry regarding censorship in films but the government haven’t responded to the report till date,” Sasidharan said.
Interestingly, Sasidharan was once an active member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is widely regarded as the patron organisation of the ruling party. However, his change of heart occurred ever since Narendra Modi became the face of the party.
He continued, “In my younger days, I went to RSS shakhas. In fact, I was the unit secretary of ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) and I supported the BJP during (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee years. Because I felt Vajpayee government was accommodating and were open to diverse ideas. I don't see anybody other than Modi in this government. There is no space for difference of ideas.”
When asked if he had any plans to contest elections in the near future, Sasidharan said, “I’m an artiste and it is not my duty to contest election. But I think youngsters should come into politics. My aim was to become a filmmaker and I became one but the situation is such that you are forced to talk politics. The country is going through testing times.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Patwardhan, who is known for his critically-acclaimed socio-political documentaries like Father, Son, and Holy War, Ram Ke Naam, and War and Peace, said, “We consider this government to be almost a fascist government and if they come back to power it will become fascism because they have destroyed all the institutions in our country one by one-- starting with the media which is now more or less controlled. It has now extended to the Judiciary and Election Commission. Their aim is to make the country a Hindu rashtra and they say it very openly. They don't believe in secular democracy.”
In 2015, Patwardhan supported creative people’s decision of returning their awards in protest against the murders of author MM Kalburgi and activist Govind Pansare. He said today the situation seemed to have gotten even worse.
“It is a total attack on democratic rights. Freedom of speech is now being curtailed by not just stopping the writing or work but actually killing the person and terrorising others into not doing it. This government has poisoned the people into hating minorities and their neighbours.”
How does he see Bollywood’s growing proximity with the current government? “Some of those are the younger crowd that are desperate for their career but I think that Bollywood would pretty much be divided down the middle. I actually think that there's a silent majority in Bollywood that is actually fully in agreement with us but maybe due to their big budget films they don't want to come out in the public. Having said that, I'm not here to criticise others, basically we do what we want to do and others will do what they want to. A lot of people in India are keeping silent when there are attacks on minorities but that's between them and their conscience.”
Moreover, Patwardhan said that he was still being hopeful about the whole situation as "you can't fool all the people all the time."
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