Since filmmaker Anand Patwardhan’s sprawling documentary Vivek (Reason) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018, it has made quiet waves at film festivals abroad, winning best feature-length documentary at IDFA (the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam), but it has not been seen in theatres in India.
Vivek is a hard film to watch. It is long — 261 minutes in a time of short attention spans — but riveting: at a private screening this writer attended, where a large chunk of the invitees were silver-haired or balding, only a handful of people slipped out for toilet breaks despite an over-airconditioned auditorium.
And the film is not an exposé; it is the stuff of our newspaper headlines, talk shows and social media discourse. It make us see again what we have seen before and left behind as we move to the next outrage: the muscular Hindu nationalism spreading itself around India, which is arguably the inspiration behind, if not the source of, brutal attacks on views and ways of life that question it or oppose it.
As urgent as this narrative is, until now, you could only read about the film, unless you had seen it at a film festival abroad, or if you were invited to a private screening.
This week, though, chapters of a version of the film with a Hindi voice-over and subtitles have appeared on YouTube, but not from Mr. Patwardhan’s own handle, as has happened with some of his work earlier. Mr. Patwardhan, incidentally, has encountered blowback on YouTube before, when the platform stopped his ability to monetise his older films there, Ram ke Naam and Jai Bhim Comrade, possibly because they were flagged by concerted action by those not wanting his work to be seen.
The Hindu reached out to Mr. Patwardhan to ask whether he had released the chapters of Vivek himself, but he was unavailable.
On Wednesday, his YouTube handle released a short extract from the film. It features the son of Mohammed Akhlaq, Sartaj, who is in the Indian Air Force, speaking of his father’s killing, goes onto show the beating up of several young Dalit men, and a public meeting in which Dalits pledge not to clear animal carcasses or clean sewers any more, before touching on the philosophies of RSS founder Hedgewar and long-time leader Golwalkar, before coming back to Sartaj, who says that everywhere he finds love, and that he is sure that it is there, that he feels fortunate to be born in India, but that a handful of people want to destroy this. It concludes with the text ‘look before you vote.’