Amol Palekar was rudely interrupted from speaking his mind at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai when he was on the stage addressing the gathering. A clear and disturbing breach of the freedom of expression and also a manifestation of political censorship, the veteran actor-filmmaker speaks his mind to Subhash K Jha.
Namaskaar Amolji, welcome to the culture of intolerance. I was shocked to see the video where the two ladies from the NGMA administration interrupted you…
But why are you shocked?
Well, I guess we are living times of censorship and gagging.
Exactly. This is nothing to be shocked about anymore.
How did you react when you were told on stage, in not so many words, to shut up?
I was disturbed. Breaking all norms of decency…so I was disturbed. But I kept my composure and maintained my decorum although the line of decency was crossed on stage.
What exactly is the background for this rude intervention that you had to face on stage?
Have you seen my full speech? It is on the net. Aap padh lo. I was only allowed to say half of the things that I was meant to (on stage).
So did the NGMA organizers have a whiff beforehand of what you were going to say?
Maybe. I really don’t know. But that lady whom you see interrupting at the end of the video is the new director of the NGMA. She introduced herself as someone who doesn’t know anything about art. Nor she said did she know anything about Prabhakar Barwe and his work….so that’s how she introduced herself to the audience.
How honest of her!
Yes…and then she recited some of my lines from one of my films. I think they expected me to recite some lines from my Golmaal and all that.
Your Golmaal, not to be confused with Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal?
Yes. I think I was expected to say my bit as an actor and disappear.
This is not an atmosphere conducive to a healthy debate?
It is not. That’s what I was trying to say after I was stopped from speaking. The justification on their part for interrupting me…and they insist that they were not interrupting me but requesting me….was, it was inappropriate on my part to raise these issues on a platform like this. But my argument is, in fact this was just the right platform to raise the issue because I was raising questions related to the NGMA. I began by speaking about Barwe, how I personally knew him and what I thought of him as an artiste and his art. I can immodestly say that I was the only speaker at the event who spoke about Barwe’s art.
Then what happened?
Then I said, this was the last retrospective that was likely to happen in the hallowed and sacrosanct premise of the NGMA, and then I spoke about how the advisory committee had been scrapped. Ultimately I concluded wondering what Barwe would’ve thought of this (the scrapping of the committee and the cancellation of further retrospectives of artistes) if he was here.
They would argue that that’s not what you invited to say?
I don’t think I brought the topic unnecessarily or said anything irrelevant. According to me it was the perfect platform for raising the questions that I did. I mean, if I don’t raise questions on the workings of the NGMA at the NGMA then where should I raise them? Should I raise them at a private dinner at the dining table?
As a crusader of true democracy how do you compare the attitude of the current government as compared with previous governments?
I’d say censorship now is increased manifold as compared to earlier on. I have been fighting against censorship forever. I fought my first case against censorship in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Even now I have petitioned in the Supreme Court against censorship in cinema. In the Mumbai High court I’ve petitioned against censorship in theatre. I’ve been fighting censorship all my life. And I will continue to do so.
What would you say about censorship laws of our country?
I’d say censorship in any form is wrong. Nowadays anyone can get up and say his sentiments are hurt, that his faith is being disturbed. Or he can say he doesn’t like the size of Amol Palekar nose, so chop it off.
Not yours, Sir, they wanted to chop off Deepika Padukone’s nose?
It’s the same malaise.