I remember watching Anand Patwardhan’s film In The Name of God (Ram Ke Naam) a few months ago when I was away from home at a university dormitory in Taiwan. It was a time when the Ayodhya issue had somewhat subsided but it had given way to a much larger debate of Hindutva, which is still gripping our country. This some 100 minutes long documentary was a visual and thoughtful experience which left me shaken. Now when the recent Supreme Court verdict has again brought the issue into the forefront, I am reminded of what the film was all about.
Although the entire film managed to tell a story of a different side of Ayodhya, which the mainstream media never really bothered to depict, the most memorable part of the film was the ending. Here we were introduced to Pujari Laldas, the court-appointed priest at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The conversation that unfolded between him and the filmmaker made me sad as I realized how insane the whole controversy really was, and still is. Here I have reproduced excerpts from the transcript of the interview which Anand Patwardhan himself had posted on his blog.
“What do you think of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s plan to build a temple?”
“This is a political game played by the VHP. There was never a ban on building a temple. Besides, according to our tradition, any place where idols of god are kept is a temple. That’s the Hindu custom. Any such building is considered a temple. And even if they wanted to build a separate temple, why demolish a structure where idols already exist?
Those who want to do this are actually more interested in creating tensions all over India in order to cash in on the Hindu vote. They don’t care about the genocide that will occur — how many will be killed, how much destroyed, or even about what will happen to Hindus in Muslim majority areas.
Was it Ram’s ideal that the people must starve to death? This great deprivation in our country — shouldn’t our religious leaders be concerned with it? If you have money or if the rich listen to you, shouldn’t you use that money to help the poor? Like Mother Teresa does? Or like our religious leaders did in the past?”
Few minutes into his rhetoric, I found myself in disbelief, not because of what he said, but because of the fact that his voice had remained buried in the midst of the chaos taking place at Ayodhya. As the credits came on the screen, I was left heartbroken. Pujari Laldas was assassinated three years after this interview. The film ended with a rendition of Kabir’s bhajan.
“Sadhu dekho jag baurana.
Sanchi kahi to maaran dhave, Jhoothe jag patiyana..”
Anand Patwardhan made me sad, but he also made me ponderous. I had found an expression of truth in his films, whether it was In The Name of God or War and Peace. In our times of imminent danger, when people who call for communal voices are being hero-worshipped, Anand Patwardhan has become an enigmatic character. Pujari Laldas and his death has been forgotten. The silencing of Gauri Lankesh and Pansare is also the silencing of that same voice of truth.
In our troubled times, Anand Patwardhan must be watched. His films are weapons for change.
Anand Patwardhan’s blog: http://patwardhan.com