She makes his father promise he won’t die before her; and as fate would have it, she passes away first, then his father.
- It was shown in the TIFF Docs section
- We sense a looking back on a lifetime and despair at the communal rift that has deepened
- Worldwide it is already being highly sought after
Anand Patwardhan’s Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, The World is Family, is one of his most moving and tender, yet compelling documentaries. It was a privilege to have the world premiere of this film at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), to whom I’m Senior Programme Advisor South Asia. It was shown in the TIFF Docs section.
Patwardhan is among the world’s most acclaimed documentary makers, with a formidable body of work of about 19 films over nearly 50 years, that includes Waves of Revolution (short, 1974) to Prisoners of Conscience, Ram Ke Naam (In the Name of God), Father Son and Holy War, War and Peace, Jai Bhim Comrade, Vivek (Reason) and now Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in 2023.
In his previous work, Patwardhan’s approach has been combative—demanding accountability, justice, highlighting discrimination, speaking truth to power, on a range of issues, from the Emergency of 1975, the unionisation of immigrant workers in Canada, the rise of right-wing power, religion and patriarchy, Dalit issues and much more. In Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, he turns his gaze inwards, looking at his own life, his parents’ and family’s life and their involvement in the Gandhian and independence movements, the secular values he inherited, that have been rapidly squandered in the current regime. For the first time, we see a vulnerable Patwardhan, yet a man who is not afraid to cry—and that is disarming. There is tenderness in his relationship with his family, especially his father and uncles. His mother, nee Nirmala Dialdas, who was born in Hyderabad, Sindh, in what is now Pakistan, went to Shantiniketan and became an acclaimed potter; Patwardhan says when young he was competing with his mother’s pottery; and had feelings of abandonment as he was put in boarding schools as she travelled the world for her pottery. She makes his father promise he won’t die before her; and as fate would have it, she passes away first, then his father.
There is a lot of archival footage, as we see how his family’s deep involvement in Gandhi’s as well as the independence movement—notably his uncles, Rau and Achyut—ran parallel to the nation’s history, as well as charming and heartbreaking home movie footage over the years. His father, Balu Patwardhan, jokes: “I am the only one [in the family] who never went to jail.” We sense a looking back on a lifetime and despair at the communal rift that has deepened dramatically. He has footage of feisty contemporary resistance and a defence of human rights at the anti-CAA and anti-NRC rallies in Mumbai. He has footage of himself visiting his maternal home in Pakistan on an earlier visit, through peace movements between India and Pakistan that were once possible; and finds his home has been turned into a hospital. Although the tone of the film is much quieter and inward, without explicitly saying it, Patwardhan still holds us, the viewers, accountable, demanding that we do our bit to set the country on the right path, to uphold humanity above all religions. There is haunting music, especially at the climax, with a Kabir poem hauntingly rendered by Kumar Gandharva, a deeply philosophical approach to death. It is a film that will remain in our hearts for long; more importantly, Patwardhan may prefer that it is also seen as a call to action—and time is running out. Worldwide it is already being highly sought after; I hope the film will be seen widely in India.
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org