Una Mitran Di Yaad Pyaari/In Memory of Friends
India 1990, 16 mm, 60 min, Punjabi, Hindi, English subtitles
Patwardhan’s extraordinary 16 mm documentary on terrorist activity in Punjab inaugurated a trilogy of films addressing the growing communalism of Indian politics. The film follows a group of Hindu and Sikh socialists campaigning against both a repressive state government (which not long ago encouraged communalism as a divide and rule tactic) and Sikh fanatics. The focus of their campaign is the legacy of Bhagat Singh, a young socialist Sikh hanged by the British in 1931 and now claimed both by the state as a patriot and by the separatists as a Sikh militant. The filmmaker quotes from the writings of Bhagat Singh, emphasising his rationalist atheism. As in his earlier work, the director isolates the false rhetoric of professional politicians, contrasting it with images and sounds of ordinary people in their daily lives (e.g. the sound of the woman making chapatis). He also debunks the pompousness of official politics together with its representations: when a central government minister lands in a helicopter, the event is first shown with Patwardhan’s own footage, which then cuts to a Doordashan TV clip, including its declamatory voice track, presenting a glorious appeal. The film ends with noted communist leader Jamal Singh Padda, who communicated his universalist message through speech and song in the film shortly before he was shot dead. The film has unforgettable images showing murderous stupidity blazing in the eyes of the fundamentalists as well as the astonishing courage of those trying to build a socialist politics in that situation.– Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen, Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema, New Revised Edition, New Delhi 1999, p.488.
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