Silence of artists at NGMA event hurt, says Amol Palekar

I was hoping that the artists on the dais and in the audience would applaud me for raising their issues, says actor-director

By Arnab Ganguly in Mumbai
  • Published 11.02.19, 2:42 AM
  • Updated 11.02.19, 8:25 AM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
Amol Palekar mentioned how writer Nayantara Sahgal was recently invited to speak at a Marathi literary event only to have her invitation withdrawn because what she was going to say would have been “slightly critical of the situation around us”. (Wikimedia Commons)

Amol Palekar has expressed his “hurt” at the silence of the artists at a National Gallery of Modern Art event in Mumbai where he was interrupted on Friday for criticising the culture ministry’s policies and had to cut his speech short.

“I was badly hurt that none of the senior artists who were in the audience interfered and raised a voice telling the organisers to let me complete the speech,” the actor-director told a news conference in Pune on Sunday.

“If there was any impropriety at the event, it was (the act of) interrupting my speech after inviting me as a guest,” he added, answering some NGMA officials’ reported allegation that some of his comments on Friday had been improper.

Speaking at an exhibition of the works of his friend, the late painter Prabhakar Barwe, Palekar had criticised the Centre’s “agenda of either moral policing or proliferation of certain art commensurate with an ideological incline”.

The gallery director, exhibition curator (Jesal Thacker) and a former head of an artists’ advisory committee (Suhas Bahulkar) repeatedly interrupted Palekar and told him told to stick to Barwe’s work, prompting him to ask how a guest could be subjected to “censorship”.

Palekar mentioned how writer Nayantara Sahgal was recently invited to speak at a Marathi literary event only to have her invitation withdrawn because what she was going to say would have been “slightly critical of the situation around us”. He then walked off the podium.

“When I wrote the speech, I was hoping that the artists on the dais and in the audience would applaud me for raising their issues,” Palekar said on Sunday.

“But when artists like Suhas Bahulkar and Jesal Thacker requested me to stop, I was shocked.”

Palekar, the chief guest at the event, had described as “disastrous” the culture ministry’s decision to abolish the advisory committee of local artists at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai and Bangalore.

On Sunday he said he was only trying to seek the reasons behind the cancellation of retrospectives of two senior artists.

He said he had learnt that the artists’ advisory committee had approved retrospectives of three artists, of whom Barwe’s work was exhibited.

“But I came to know that without any communication to the committee, the next two retrospectives had been cancelled by the 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.

“Had they (the organisers) given me a brief that I should not speak critically about the government’s policies, I would not have accepted the invite to inaugurate the retrospective.”

Palekar stressed that he was talking about the NGMA and could therefore not be accused of saying anything inappropriate.

“I was not given any brief what could be said and what was off limits. So to say that it was improper for me to raise the issue at the event is not true. I spoke about Prabhakar Barwe and then spoke about these important issues,” he 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 (had been) invited by the gallery itself, how can it be improper?”

After he had walked off the podium, Rupavataram had reminded the actor that the NGMA was a government gallery.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted: “The whole essence of our democracy, our constitutional rights is the freedom to criticise the government and its leaders…. This behaviour with Amol Palekar is undemocratic and highly condemnable.”

Prithviraj Chavan, former Congress chief minister of Maharashtra, said it was “shocking that a national icon like Amol Palekar was gagged”.

Additional reporting by PTI

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