Heart To Art: Across Borders — Anand Patwardhan's 2004 docu-short explores peace between two warring nations
With a running time of barely 10 minutes, one does need to look closely at Patwardhan's decision to release his documentary short at a time like this.
(Heart To Art: Across Borders premiered on Cinemapreneur and is streaming along with Anand Patwardhan’s Jai Bhim Comrade. Log on to www.cinemapreneur.com to rent/buy the film.)
The year is 2004, and there's a loud murmur of Indo-Pak peace talks. As a gesture, the Pakistan establishment invites the Indian cricket team for its first bilateral series in nearly 15 years (in Pakistan) and its first since the Kargil conflict in 2000. Journalists, on both sides of the border, are using the word 'historic' to describe the series. In spite of the geo-political strain between the two nations, for the first time in nearly six decades... there's hope. Around this time that we witness the first scenes from Anand Patwardhan's Heart To Art: Across Borders.
We're at an art exhibition in Karachi, which houses the works by students in Karachi, Islamabad, Delhi and Mumbai. One portrait depicts India and Pakistan as Siamese twins, wearing the same body but two different heads, while another one shows a dove stitching the lands between India and Pakistan. There's one where arms lie buried in a grave, and the plaque reads "Enmity died in 2004". The air inside the exhibition centre seems to be charged with a new-age idealism, the colours seem to be overflowing with a romanticism of youth. There's a yes-we-can spirit brimming in those paintings. And Patwardhan finds his two protagonists of the documentary in two similar-aged boys - Uday (from Delhi) and Waqas (from Karachi).
Uday is the Delhi co-ordinator for the initiative, responsible for collecting art works. During his brief chat, Uday says he's excited about seeing Karachi. He hopes the exhibition will take place in India too. "We're hoping it travels to other cities, provided the customs officials co-operate with us... which they haven't been doing," Uday says with a nervous laughter. He also tells the viewer that he will be leaving for India the very next day, since his exams are going on. The optimism on his face is disarming to say the least.
Waqas seems like an almost mirror image of Uday. Bespectacled with a lanky face, and a stubble around the chin and soft-spoken... it's difficult to tell one from the other. Waqas was on his way back after a trip to India, when he says he came up with the idea of curating his own works along with that of a few friends. The idea evolved and they started talking about including more schools from Pakistan and India to express about war, and the tense political relations between the two countries. "You can't argue with a painting," Waqas says, while mentioning the general consensus amongst the young artists seemed to be that peace isn't an abstract concept that it's usually made out to be.
The film almost feels like it's come out of a time capsule, one that gives us a picture of how things used to be. Between 2003-04 to 2007-08, India and Pakistan played four bilateral series in five years, where both India and Pakistan played hosts two times each. This was around the time when Pervez Musharraf expressed his admiration for MS Dhoni's bleached hair, and Laxmipathy Balaji became a bigger star across the border.
After the 2008 Mumbai attacks further strained the India-Pakistan relations more than ever, there were campaigns to salvage whatever little brotherhood remained between the two nations - through the Aman Ki Asha project in 2010, and a 'viral' Google ad in 2013. And then it all disappeared.
After the 2014 General Elections, 'go to Pakistan' has become an acceptable response for anyone showing the slightest hint of dissent. TV channels have doubled down on what many have described as a coordinated attempt to instill 'Pakistan phobia' amongst a majority of the electorate. India's reputation as a 'secular state' has come under attack with the ruling govt's policies, especially the CAA that inspired nationwide protests. It's been a few years of blockbuster Hindi films where the 'enemy' has always been a green-tinted Pakistani state or 'Mughal invaders' coming through the route of Pakistan. It's also been a year fraught with communal tension in the city of Delhi, where a BJP MLA proudly stated how the Delhi elections will be a 'contest between India and Pakistan'.
Patwardhan trains his camera back on a hopeful Waqas, whose portrait of Mahatma Gandhi leads to the most touching moment in the documentary. "In Pakistan, we're not given the full picture of history. It's only after you've read about what Gandhiji accomplished for both Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent, that you realise what a great man he was." His face is beaming as he rattles out anecdotes about Gandhi promising to fast unto death in Kolkata, around the time of partition, if any violence broke out in the name of religion. Waqas goes on to add what he finds so impressive about Gandhi's ideals - "in spite of having views which were so pure, he also ensured that he was malleable. Whenever he learned something new, he changed his view as opposed to being rigid about it." A boy from Karachi talking about why he's fascinated with Gandhian principles, is probably Patwardhan's way of reminding us of how things were in 2004. And how far we've drifted in 16 years.
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