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Archive for Monday, August 19, 2002

Anti-war film creates fallout in India

August 19, 2002

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— An anti-war film that depicts the euphoria after India's first successful nuclear tests and the horror of Sept. 11 has been deemed too provocative for Indian eyes.

Just weeks after nuclear-armed India and Pakistan pulled back from the threat of war, the film censor board has demanded that veteran documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan make 21 cuts to "War and Peace" because of scenes that "may have the effect of desensitizing or dehumanizing people."

Critics charge that the board's decision is part of an effort to muzzle Indian media that challenge the ruling coalition led by Hindu nationalists. Patwardhan says the cuts would ruin the three-hour film, which ends with silent scenes of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In an interview Saturday, Patwardhan said he would appeal the cuts today to the Appellate Tribunal in New Delhi. He expects to win, as he has each time the board has challenged his other social and political documentaries.

"The cuts that they asked for are so ridiculous that they won't hold up in court," Patwardhan said. "But if these cuts do make it, it will be the end of freedom of expression in the Indian media."

"War and Peace" is about India's celebrations after successful nuclear tests in May 1998. There are chest-thumping scenes of Hindus praising Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the secret tests near the western desert town of Pokhran, with fireworks, rallies and cheers of "Atom Bomb Vajpayee," and "Pokhran has ignited every atom of manhood."'

The film is also about the consequences of nuclear bombs and the power of the Hindu fundamentalist forces steering Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP-led coalition won re-election in 1999, aided by the national jubilation over joining the club of nuclear nations.

The Central Board of Film Certification demanded the cuts, even after "War and Peace" won top honors at the state-run Bombay International Film Festival in February.

Among the ordered cuts: Footage of independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi minutes before he was gunned down by Hindu-nationalist Nathuram Godse in 1948; visuals of Hindus cutting their hands with razors to sign their names in blood on messages of congratulations for the nuclear tests; all scenes with Vajpayee and other political leaders; and a sequence that has leaders of Hinduism's lower Dalit caste, known as "untouchables," lamenting that the nuclear tests were conducted on Buddha's birthday. Many Dalits have converted to Buddhism as a means to escape Hinduism's caste discrimination.

Mahesh Bhatt, one of India's most respected filmmakers, called the censor board's demands "shameful."

"It is appalling that the land that deifies Gandhi makes it so difficult for a man like Patwardhan, who articulates the same values that Gandhi dreamed for India," Bhatt said in a telephone interview. "The sanity of his film, it just undermines the war hysteria that they've whipped up."

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