Anand Patwardhan has been making documentaries for several decades, which are underlined for their incisive and uncompromising examinations of socio-political power and authority. Yet his new film, The World is Family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam), which premiered at the 12th Dharamshala International Film Festival, is unlike anything he has made so far. Piercingly intimate and emotionally rich, it turns the camera inwards to document the filmmaker’s ageing parents and their history with India’s independence with stunning effect. (Also read: Against the Tide review: Men at crossroads in Mumbai’s Koli fishing community)
Anand Patwardhan narrows down on his parents, uncles, aunts, and distant acquaintances to detail their inclination with India’s freedom struggle, joining the dots till the current reality of the country. The filmmaker’s father, Balu Patwardhan, recalls how almost every protestor those days would get arrested. Meanwhile, the filmmaker’s mother Nirmala, cuts it down to hilarious and savage responses in the midst of her reminiscences, also highlighting how closely she worked with Mahatma Gandhi during that time. Anand’s oldest paternal uncles, Rau and Achyut were also part of the movement in the 1930s, and their conflicting notions towards resistance also forms a significant portion of this work.
Combining archival video footage with homemade clips taken over the course of the last few years, The World is Family is a poignant and breathtaking new step towards preserving oral history. Along the way, the filmmaker allows his viewers to witness the tender and heartfelt bond that his parents shared. Although father is a real shy when it comes to the camera, the mother faces it with confidence of a veteran. She is hilarious throughout, her acidic wit and savage comebacks never amiss. In an early scene she asks him why is he shooting when she hasn’t even combed her hair. To which the director’s voice responds back that it’s okay as the material won’t be send for a beauty contest. “It won’t be a for a beauty contest, but an ugly contest,” she tells him.
As the camera stands close by, Balu and Nirmala fight and playfully argue over a number of things – from him locking the door of the bathroom to the story of how they got married. “He used to think of me as a little kid,” she shares. Together, their scenes are the heart and soul of this special documentary that holds on to the everlasting power of love and family amidst the changing political landscape of the country.
The domestic scenes are juxtaposed with the shifting, sometimes horrific anecdotes, about India’s struggle for Independence and the consecutive years when the rhetoric of communal harmony slowly eroded away. Anand Patwardhan masterfully edits the stories and conversations in Marathi and English together. One unforgettable scene is recounted by Nirmala, when she found herself in the middle of severe unrest in Calcutta post partition. In a car ride, she reveals, the driver suddenly touched her thigh that made her feel extremely uncomfortable and scared. Later, he explained that he did so because he didn’t want her to witness the gruesome sight on the streets where there were four decapitated bodies lying on the tram tracks. Another poignant moment arrives when she shares how she lost a precious handwoven handkerchief that was gifted to her by Mahatma Gandhi.
The World is Family is a profound, deeply moving cinematic essay about the personal and the political history of a nation. By holding the mirror on his own family, Anand Patwardhan is reflecting on the generation that had fought for India’s Independence and instilled a set of values, and the other generation which stands at a close distance, looking by. Are they really looking?