‘The World Is Family’: Anand Patwardhan’s documentary premieres at Toronto fest

Toronto: Even as his latest project had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), veteran Indian documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan is receiving even greater recognition at North America’s largest movie event, as the only Indian in its Visionaries programme.

A still from filmmaker Anand Patwardhan’s latest documentary, The World Is Family, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. (Source: TIFF)

Visionaries, according to TIFF, features “Inspirational onstage conversations with individuals who are forging creative and business pathways in the industry”. Patwardhan, who is scheduled to appear on Tuesday, joins the likes of directors Spike Lee and Guillermo del Toro.

Last year, Srisaila Sri Rajamouli, director of Telugu blockbusters including Baahubali, its sequel Baahubali 2 and RRR, became the first Indian featured in the Visionaries segment.

“There’s definitely recognition of my work, especially in Toronto,” Patwardhan said. His films were also featured in a retrospective at the documentary film festival Hot Docs last year, where he also received the Outstanding Achievement Award.

Patwardhan has brought a film to TIFF for the fourth time. The first, In The Name of God, premiered in 1992.

Just over 30 years later, he has brought his most personal film yet to the festival, with The World Is Family or Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. It harks back to the freedom struggle through the lens of interviews with his family, and its deep connection to the movement, and also builds an intimate portrait of his late parents, Nirmala and Balu.

That homage also brings into play the idealism of that period, and within it the idea of social harmony. The issue of secularism and its erosion is an underlying theme of the film, as Patwardhan said, “Today, it’s a story of what we’ve lost. Today, India is diametrically opposite to what people who fought for independence were trying to build. We now have its exact opposite.”

While the film isn’t meant to be “didactic”, it’s also an effort to preserve “public memory” through the reminisces of his parents, other family members, about their encounters with luminaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar, all enhanced with archival footage.

Alluding to the current government and the right wing, Patwardhan said, “It’s important to put on record what happened, because they’re rewriting history.”

The film, though, came about somewhat accidentally. He had filmed important events in his parents’ lives, like birthdays and anniversaries. “I wasn’t making a film, I was just keeping my parents’ memory alive, doing it for myself,” he said. But while capturing their oral history on camera and later going through the footage during Covid, he discovered its potential.

Patwardhan finds his own film “difficult to watch”, because it reminds him of the loss of his parents. But it documents a “hopeful moment in history” and Patwardhan felt the message it should convey to audiences is “how values were internalised in that period and those today are so diametrically different.”

In his description of the film, TIFF programmer Thom Powers wrote, “For audiences encountering Patwardhan for the first time, this film is a warm introduction to a major figure in Indian cinema.”

The film festival runs until September 17.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR ‘The World Is Family’: Anand Patwardhan’s documentary premieres at Toronto fest

Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb. …view detail

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