Palekar, who later addressed a press conference in Pune, stood his ground and said there was nothing objectionable in merely talking about the changed rules
It takes courage to dissent. And veteran actor-director Amol Palekar, who was invited by the National Gallery of Modern Art to felicitate the work of seasoned artist Prabhakar Barwe, exhibited just that as he criticized the government even though he was constantly interrupted and snubbed during his speech.
A painter himself, Palekar had prepared his speech to reminisce the works of his close friend Barwe, whose retrospective was being exhibited at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai. A retrospective is an exhibition or compilation of an artist’s work, showing his/her evolution over a period of time.
Opening his speech with an anecdote, Palekar thanked the NGMA for holding a retrospective for Barwe – titled Inside The Empty Box – for the first time after his demise almost 24 years ago.
“Many of you may not know that this retrospective will be the last show that is decided by the advisory committee of local artists and not by some bureaucrat or an agent of the government with an agenda of either moral policing or proliferation of certain art commensurate with an ideological incline,” Palekar said.
The 74-year-old actor, as though hurt by the decision during the exhibition of his close friend’s work, voiced his concerns over the reported scrapping of the advisory committee of local artists who decide whose work will be displayed at the NGMA. He said those decisions will be taken from Delhi by the Ministry of Culture.
“Commensurate with this new policy, the proposed retrospectives of Mehli Gobhai and Sudhir Patwardhan scheduled respectively in March-April and December 2019, were cancelled. We, therefore, ought to be grateful to the Almighty Ministry for not cancelling this retrospective as well,” Palekar added.
However, NGMA director Anita Rupavataram constantly interrupted him, asking him to “stick to Barwe’s work”. A baffled Palekar responded with, “Are you trying to stop me from speaking and applying censorship on my speech?”
Palekar even went on to mention that writer Nayantara Sahgal was recently invited to speak at a Marathi literary convention recently, but the invitation was withdrawn at the last minute because what she was going to say "was slightly critical of the situation around us".
"Are we creating the same situation here?" he asked.
On the request of the curator, Jesal Thacker, Palekar cut short his speech and walked off the podium.After the video of the event went viral on social media, several senior journalists were up in arms for humiliating the dignified actor. Many Opposition leaders, including Congress leader and former HRD minister Kapil Sibal, and Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) joined the chorus on the curbs laid by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the freedom of expression.
Just got this video of one of my favourite actors, Amol Palekar, being cut off while ruing the loss of independence in art at @mumbai_ngma simply because he seemed critical of a Ministry of Culture/NGMA decision.
February 9, 2019
But it was the stoic silence of the film fraternity that was the most disappointing. Now having formed a reputation for distancing themselves from political issues, the film fraternity displayed a cold, rather dismal behaviour by not standing up for one of their own. This attitude, witnessed in bits and pieces during censorship issues over a couple of films, including Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmaavat, is now becoming a permanent trait of the Hindi film industry.
Palekar, who later addressed a press conference in Pune, stood his ground and said there was nothing objectionable in merely talking about the changed rules. He said if the NGMA expected him to speak only about the inauguration ceremony, then he should have been notified beforehand.
“But I came to know that without any communication to the committee, the next two retrospectives have been cancelled by Mumbai NGMA's new director Anita Rupavataram. I wanted to raise these issues. How and when these decisions were taken, we wanted to know," Palekar said.
"It is shocking. The propriety of my comments is being objected to by NGMA. As I was talking about NGMA at their own venue and invited by the gallery itself, how can it be improper?" he wondered.French poet Victor Hugo had once said, “Freedom in art, freedom in society, this is the double goal towards which all consistent and logical minds must strive”. This incident seems to be a reminder that we are a long way off from that goal.