Amol Palekar’s speech interrupted at Mumbai event: The show (of intolerance) must go on?

Here are five recent instances when political heavy-handedness, aided by angry street protests, trumped creative freedom.

 |  3-minute read |   11-02-2019
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On February 8, noted actor and filmmaker Amol Palekar was invited to Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), a government-run body, to speak on artist Prabhakar Barwe.

Palekar’s speech, however, was repeatedly interrupted by the organisers, asking him to ‘stick to the topic’ — to the point that Palekar had to walk off the stage.

A video clipping of the incident has since been doing the rounds on social media, provoking an outcry over censorship and the many forms it has been taking recently.

When Palekar was interrupted, he was not criticising any particular leader or government. He was merely protesting against bureaucratic control over artistic institutions, which plaint was apparently found unpalatable by the organisers.

But Palekar is not alone. Here are five recent instances where certain artists and their works were found ‘inconvenient’ by certain quarters.

1.). Nayantara Sehgal

Just last month, author Nayantara Sahgal was invited to inaugurate the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan at Yavatmal, in the presence of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Nayantara Sahgal had been at the forefront of the 'Award Wapsi' campaign. Nayantara Sahgal had been at the forefront of the 'Award Wapsi' campaign. (Photo: PTI/file)

However, the invite was cancelled at the last moment, after the local unit of the MNS protested against her presence. While MNS chief Raj Thackeray later gave out an assurance that his party would not disturb the event even if Sahgal did attend it, her invitation remained cancelled.

In 2015, Sahgal was the first artist to return her Sahitya Academy Award, in what later became the much-celebrated — and equally reviled — ‘Award Wapsi’ campaign.    

2.). Naseeruddin Shah

The month before that, in December 2018, actor Naseeruddin Shah’s keynote address at the Ajmer Literature Festival was cancelled after many people, including BJP leaders, took umbrage to his remarks over the increasing incidents of mob lynchings and the ‘spreading of hatred’ in the country.   

Naseeruddin Shah’s comments have caused a furore.Naseeruddin Shah’s event was cancelled after protests took place outside the venue. (Photo: PTI)

Members of various right-wing groups, including the BJP’s youth wing, protested and shouted slogans outside the venue, after which the organisers cancelled Shah’s event.

3.). Moneeza Hashmi

In May 2018, Moneeza Hashmi, daughter of the great poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and herself, a prominent Pakistani media personality, was invited to speak at the 15th Asia Media Summit. However, when Hashmi arrived in New Delhi and went to the hotel where she was supposed to be put up, she was informed there was no booking in her name. She was later told she wouldn’t be allowed to speak at the event.

The event had been organised by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting along with the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD). After an uproar, the organisers denied any knowledge of the developments.

4.). S Durga   

In November 2017, Malayalam film S Durga was dropped without explanation from the Goa Film Festival. S Durga and a Marathi film, Nude, had been cleared for screening by the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) jury, but were later dropped, reportedly at the behest of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. The head of the jury panel, director Sujoy Ghosh, resigned in protest.

S Durga — earlier named Sexy Durga — had faced protests from several right-wing organisations over its title. The title was later changed but it apparently wasn’t enough for the I&B ministry.

5.). Padmaavat

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movie had been facing protests from right-wing organisations — most notably, the Karni Sena — ever since its shooting began. The crew was also threatened while on location. The movie was later duly cleared by the censor board, but the protests raged unabated.

They asked for a ban. The government obliged. They asked for a ban. Four state governments obliged. (Photo: PTI)

The governments of four states — Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana — at some point decided the protesters mattered more than the censor board, and banned the movie. All the four states were then ruled by the BJP. It took the Supreme Court's intervention to lift the ban, and finally allow the movie to be screened in 2018.

Also read: Faiz daughter sent back. Here's her son on the disturbing deportation of peace icon


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