The director was most willing and the subject was most reluctant—it’s important to remember this while watching Hindustan Hamara, R.V. Ramani’s film about documentary giant Anand Patwardhan.

Shot between 2008 and this year, and structured around the screenings of Patwardhan’s most recent film, Jai Bhim Comrade, as well as older titles, Hindustan Hamara provides a sideways glance at one of India’s most celebrated documentarians. A direct view might have been possible had Patwardhan agreed to be followed and interviewed at length. Characteristically, the film-maker didn’t. One of the leading figures of the political documentary in India, whose powerful and provocative anti-establishment tracts have examined the Emergency (Prisoners of Conscience), slum demolition (Bombay Our City), communalism (In the Name of God and Father, Son And Holy War), nuclear disarmament (War And Peace), and Dalit politics and protest music (Jai Bhim Comrade), Patwardhan has strenuously kept his personal and professional lives apart and eschewed any attempts at psychological profiling by journalists.

Through Hindustan Hamara, Ramani tries to reconcile Patwardhan’s far-reaching influence with his own ongoing interest in the contours and nuances of creative expression, which have resulted in observational and open-ended shorts and documentaries on artists, puppeteers, theatre directors and writers. “I have always had a warm relationship with Anand, even though I might have issues with some of his films," Ramani says. “This film is an attempt to come to terms with Anand and the films he makes, to engage with him in my own style."

Hindustan Hamara focuses on aspects of screenings organized in the wake of Jai Bhim Comrade’s premiere in Mumbai in January 2012—the prelude and the chatter before the darkening of the lights, the silence that settles over the viewers, film clips and the interactions that follow. The result plays out a short introduction to Patwardhan’s filmography and a respectful tribute, which won’t be useful or particularly insightful for keen followers of his work and ideas. Filmed in silhouette and often from the back, Patwardhan remains an elusive figure, focused entirely on the screenings and somewhat self-conscious of Ramani’s ever-present camera.

“There’s a certain atmosphere that Anand builds up," Ramani says. “There are the films themselves and the discussions. The way he prepares viewers for a screening, the songs he chooses to play, I like all that very much."

A song, in fact, inspired the documentary’s title and recurs anthem-like throughout—“Hindustan Hamara", written by Sahir Ludhianvi and sung by Mukesh for the movie Phir Subah Hogi. “Anand has been holding on to a certain thread (of thought) all these years, and that song has become a strong centre to talk about Anand, a fulcrum of his ideas," Ramani observes.

The documentary was self-financed, like most of Ramani’s projects, although there was a moment when the Films Division of India wanted to step in as producer. The possibility of the state financing a film about a firmly anti-establishment figure would have been fascinating, had it happened. “Anand was in any case reluctant about the film, and he didn’t want to formalize anything," Ramani explains. “So I finally got out of the whole thing."

Ramani formally started shooting the film at a retrospective in Madurai in 2008, where he managed to make Patwardhan wear a lapel microphone. “That was a sign of encouragement," Ramani says. His pay-off came during a car ride from Palakkad to Thrissur, during which Patwardhan opened up about his family, especially his parents. “What Anand is all about, why is he doing this, what it means for him—one was interested in all that, but I knew he would not get into it at all," Ramani says. “What happened in the car was one of those moments that he allowed to happen. He offered me something and I was waiting for a moment when the film would switch to another gear. When that happened, I felt that film had finally happened."

Apart from public screenings, Ramani has also submitted the film for the Mumbai International Film Festival, which will take place in February. “Anand’s film-making concerns, his dilemmas and politics come through in the film at a subtle level," Ramani says. “Somewhere, all of it gets resolved, at least for me."

Hindustan Hamara will be screened at 6pm today at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Kolkata.

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