Anand Patwardhans ‘Reason’ Is Both Uncomfortable and Reassuring

Shah Alam Khan

It was a dreary weekend afternoon when I went to watch the screening of Anand Patwardhans four-hour-long documentary,Reason(Vivekin Hindi). The expectation from Patwardhans movies is always that facts will be narrated in a way that finally meanders into hope. His depictions whether inRam ke NaamorWar and Peace are rooted in reality and people-centric, challenging common social beliefs and consumerist ideas that have come to plague us.

Reasondefied my expectations.

It isnt just an Anand Patwardhan film. It is a lesson in the blood-laden contemporary history of Indias majoritarian metamorphosis. The film is etched with the filmmakers signature poignancy and hope, and is also soul-stirring experience which revolved around the process of manufacturing a Hindurashtra. Some of the facts which unfold are not just baffling, but outright dangerous. To be honest,Reasondoes not feel like a documentary it is more like a book, a classic which needs to be read in one sitting.

The documentary, which has eight chapters, opens with the life (and death) of Narender Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, both of whom were murdered for promoting rationality, equality and justice. In its essence,Reasonis a tribute to their martyrdom. In depicting the struggles of the two rationalists, the documentary captures the spirit of resistance. It reveals how the Sanatan Sanstha, the Goa-based organisation which allegedly planned both murders, injects hatred into the veins of Indias secular being.

While revealing the Sansthas true nature, Patwardhan himself becomes a voice of courage. In one scene, during a Sanatan Sanstha press conference, the organisations spokesperson confronts Patwardhan about organising protests after M.M. Kalburgis murder. The filmmaker, who is shooting the press conference, raises his head from behind the camera and gives an angry rebuttal. Imagine a rebuttal to the spokesperson of an organisation which posts crossed-out photographs of people who are mysteriously killed. What can be more courageous, in times like these?

The documentary then drifts into Dalit resistance to the rising brutalities against them. It begins tracing this resistance from the response to the public thrashing of Dalit cow skinners in Una. It shows how a mass Dalit movement is brewing in the country, with the rise of Dalit leaders such as Jignesh Mevani, who takes a mass oath at a rally, asking the crowd to repeat after him that they will refuse to lift cow carcasses in the future.

For me, that was a moment of hope in the documentary. Patwardhans capability to stun with short words is visible throughout the film. In one shot, he calls Chanakya a Machiavellian Brahmin. I am yet to find a better adjective to describe the egoistic patriarch. One of the most beautiful moments of the film is Sheetal Sathes song in a Dalitsabha.

After a powerful indictment of the oppressors of Dalits, the documentary goes on to students resistance to majoritarian politics. The events at the Jawaharlal Nehru University are shown in detail. Rohith Vemulas suicide at the University of Hyderabad and the narration of his suicide note, which has now become a thorn in the consciousness of some of us, is one of the most hopeful moments of the film. Vemulas poignant words and Patwardhans magical voice make for a healing concoction of sorts.

The film is not without its moments of humour. The chest-thumping primetime news anchor we all know so well is seen shouting at JNU student leader Umar Khalid. It appears that the anchors voice is drowned in his own noise. The uncomfortable silence and mumbling of the ABVP leader when asked to name at least five leaders from the BJP who had gone to jail during the freedom struggle is not only humorous, but also revealing.

The documentary finally gets to Dadri, Mohammad Akhlaqs village where a frenzied mob of cow vigilantes killed him on suspicion of possessing cow meat. Patwardhan shows both the victims and the perpetrators. The most moving moment is when Akhlaqs son, Mohammad Siraj, who is in the Indian Air Force, tells the filmmaker, There is no country like India. I am lucky to be born here.

All in all,Reasonis like the sun in your eyes uncomfortable, but reassuring that the sun still exists. It is a documentary we all need to urgently see, because it sharpens our arguments against the forces that are hell bent to create irreparable fissures in Indias social landscape. Reason can be the only argument against magic, irrationality, hopelessness and obscurantism.