Amol Palekar's speech interrupted, sparks debate

Veteran actor-filmmaker and activist Amol Palekar was repeatedly interrupted last week during his speech at an event at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai.

This has sparked off a debate on social media and brings to fore the issue of freedom of expression and speech and intolerance.

The 74-year-old actor was speaking at an exhibition 'Inside The Empty Box',  a retrospective in memory of late modernist artist Prabhakar Barwe on Friday at NGMA, located near the Regal Cinema and the Kala Ghoda square.

In his speech, Palekar raised the issue of the Central government-run NGMA reducing the area for holding external shows and scrapping the advisory committees at the gallery's Mumbai and Bengalaru centres and cancelling two retrospectives.

In his speech, Palekar said: "Many of you may not know that this retrospective will be the last show decided by the advisory committee of local artistes 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 went on to add: "In 2017, we were happy to hear about the plan to open new NGMA branches in Kolkata and in the Northeast. News of the expansion of this Mumbai venue was also heartening. However, on November 13, 2018, another disastrous decision was apparently taken.”

Even while he was speaking, the interruption started.

A video of the incident that went viral showed Palekar speaking against the ministry of culture.

"....Sorry... The function is about Prabhakar Barwe, please stick to that," curator Jesal Thacker told Palekar.

However, the veteran actor challenged her by asking if "censorship was being applied" on him.

He referred to the issue of the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan which withdrew the invitation extended to noted writer Nayantara Sehgal.

"....Are you stopping me to speak, you have invited me to speak.... Are we trying to create the same situation here," Palekar wanted to know.

Issue snowballs into political issue

The issue is snowballing into a political issue with the Opposition parties coming down heavily on the ruling dispensation.

Posting a clip of the incident on social media, former MP Annu Tandon said: "Just  got this video of one of my favourite actors Amol Palekar being cut off while ruing the loss of independence in art at NGMA simply because he was critical of a Ministry of Culture/NGMA decision."

"This is shocking. A veteran actor of the stature of Amol Palekar was stopped from speaking... This is not an isolated incident but this is what that has been happening in the last five years," Maharashtra Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant said.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said that the behavior against Palekar was undemocratic and highly condemable.

"The whole essense of our democracy, our constitutional rights, is the freedom to criticise the government and its leaders. No one is above criticism."

Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav asked: "Why does the BJP want to police people's thoughts and opinion and control what they want to eat, wear, say and do. They want to make India monochrome and colourless. Telling Palekar to stop speaking shows the nervousness of the government."

I was hurt: Palekar, wife

Veteran actor Amol Pakekar and his wife Sandhya Gokhale said that they are deeply hurt over the NGMA incident.

"If the NGMA wanted me to speak only about the inauguration ceremony, they should have notified earlier," Palakar, who was accompanied by his wife, said in Pune, on Sunday.

"This brings about and underlines intolerance prevalent in the country.

"The NGMA incident has opened a pandora's box on suppression of freedom of expression," Gokhale said.

“As I was talking about NGMA at their own venue and invited by the gallery itself, how can it be improper?” he said about his speech.

Palekar said that he 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," he said.

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