Respected documentarian Anand Patwardhan's two-part chronicle of the anti-nuclear weapons movement in India is a quiet, melancholy plea for an end to the perilous game of nuclear one-upmanship between India and Pakistan and, by extension, the world. India conducted its first underground nuclear test in 1974, at the Pokaran test site in the Rajasthan desert; the code phrase for success was "Buddha is smiling." But the disarmament movement Patwardhan examines was galvanized by a series of 1998 tests, which provoked reciprocal testing in Pakistan and raised the possibility that neither country would stop at nuclear saber-rattling. The 1999 Kargil War, which brought Indian and Pakistani troops to the brink of nuclear engagement in the Kashmir region dividing the two countries, seemed to confirm those fears. Patwardhan's thesis is straightforward: The volatile mix of religion and jingoistic nationalism that locates national pride in firepower and bends science to political ends will inevitably explode, engulfing soldiers, politicians and innocent men, women and children alike. His meandering record of grassroots efforts to avert disaster in India begins in the shadow of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination and ends in a disheartening tangle of endemic corruption. Men and women in the street deplore the priorities of politicians who ignore poverty and social injustice, instead spending vast sums on the development of weapons of mass destruction in the name of national pride. Members of India's dalit ("untouchable") caste who've converted to Buddhism, drawn by its emphasis on tolerance and pacifism, suggest that it's no coincidence that so many Hindu gods themselves bear arms. One of Japan's "hibakusha," a survivor of America's atomic bombing, visits India to share his first-hand experience of nuclear devastation and invites representatives to visit the Hiroshima Memorial. A visit to the U.S. National Air and Space Museum highlights an institutional history of weapons development that revels in the spectacle of military might while downplaying the human cost of its use. Back in India, villagers who live near Pokaran say that their families and neighbors have been afflicted by cancers, sores that won't heal and birth defects, which they attribute to residual radiation. Patwardhan uses their plight as a segue into discussion of low safety standards within India's nuclear industry, which he suggests is allowed to pollute the environment and sicken workers with impunity because its product fuels India's symbolically powerful nuclear weapons. Patwardhan offers no solutions, but poses disturbing questions.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: NR
- Review: Respected documentarian Anand Patwardhan's two-part chronicle of the anti-nuclear weapons movement in India is a quiet, melancholy plea for an end to the perilous game of nuclear one-upmanship between India and Pakistan and, by extension, the world. India… (more)