Panelists: Anand Patwardhan; Priya Jaikumar, University of Southern California; Siddharth Vardharajan, journalist; Chair/Moderator: Swapnil Rai, University of Michigan.

Anand Patwardhan, who is visiting the University of Michigan (U-M) campus on an artistic residency, led a well-attended panel discussion on artistic freedom and the state of democracy in India on September 23, 2022. The panel included the University of Southern California’s chair of Cinema and Media Studies, Priya Jaikumar, and Siddharth Vardharajan, an Indian journalist and one of the founding editors of the Indian digital news portal The Wire. The panel was hosted by Swapnil Rai, an assistant professor of Film, Television, And Media at U-M. 

Anand Patwardhan, India’s leading documentary filmmaker, is known for his award-winning social-political films. He has spent decades capturing Mumbai’s slum dwellers, the reality of the caste system, the rise of Hindu nationalism, and tensions between India and Pakistan. He is a member of the Oscar academy, and his films have earned more than 20 international awards.

“When you look at the world, there is quite a bit of space for documentaries, whether in the box office or streaming services,” says Patwardhan. “Unfortunately, that space doesn’t exist in India. They are being made there but often have to find their funding outside India.”

The session opened with excerpts from Patwardhan’s latest film, “Reason/Vivek,” which explores whether faith still has the upper hand over reason. It was followed by brief statements from the panelists and a Q&A session.  

“I think this conversation is not just important for India, but for many parts of the world,” said Jaikumar. “We have witnessed this time and again. Yet, why does the arc of history often bend every which way except towards justice?” 

The panelists discussed the role of journalism, art, and culture when a government steps in to control all of those things. 

“Anand’s work occupies a critical space in the Indian public sphere,” adds Vardharajan. “It should come as no surprise that he has battled censors as long as he has been making films, and the level of intolerance towards critical voices in the arts, in the media, continues to grow.” 

A recording of the panel discussion can be found here (coming soon). For more information on Patwardhan and his films, please visit his website.