“War and Peace” is a frightening examination of the continuing confrontation between nuclear neighbors India and Pakistan. Exhaustive treatment given this volatile subject by radical filmmaker Anand Patwardhan is commendable, but pic would reach a much wider audience if trimmed by about an hour. It has already picked up awards in Tokyo and Bombay and is slated for further festival exposure in the weeks to come, starting in San Francisco in April. TV programmers may show interest but will probably demand a pared-down version.
Narrated in quiet yet passionate terms by the director, the documentary, which is divided into six chapters, covers a lot of ground, starting with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a religious fanatic in 1948. It concentrates, however, on the events of the past three years, following a series of Indian nuclear tests in 1998 that enraged Pakistan and seriously destabilized the region. The pro-nuclear rhetoric of the current Indian government is countered by representatives of a small but vociferous peace and anti-nuclear movement, though Hindu nationalism and extremism are clearly on the rise.
Patwardhan encounters sick and dying villagers who live near the test sites and areas where the uranium is mined. This leads to a long segment devoted to Hiroshima and the tragic events that ended World War II, a chapter that could easily be eliminated since the material has been covered more successfully elsewhere.
One of Patwardhan’s most telling scenes takes place in Pakistan, where girls at what looks like a private school read aloud essays they have written attacking India and supporting Pakistan’s nuclear program. But in an informal discussion with the director-cameraman after class, they reveal that they are much more inclined toward peace — they only wrote the militant essay to get good grades.
The film covers military parades, rallies held by extremists on both sides, and the international arms industry. A scandal involving a senior government minister taking cash payments during arms deals, which was filmed by a hidden camera, is also included.
A postscript shows the events of Sept. 11 and America’s response to the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
Though long-winded and discursive, the professionally assembled material is of immense interest and importance in reminding the viewer of the threat to world peace posed by the continuing posturing on the subcontinent.