In an incident which sparked a debate on the idea of free speech in the country, veteran Indian actor-filmmaker Amol Palekar was asked to cut off his speech midway while he was speaking at a public event in Mumbai. The incident happened on February 8 during a National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) when he was repeatedly interrupted by the organisers.
Palekar was invited to speak at “Inside The Empty Box”, an event which was organised in the memory of artist Prabhakar Barwe. During his speech, he criticised the Ministry of Culture over policy changes that will give Centre the sole right to decide the contents and themes of exhibitions to be held at the NGMA in Mumbai and Bengaluru.
“This control over the NGMA, which is the sacrosanct venue for artistic expression and viewing of diverse art, is the recent most casualty in this ‘war against humanities’ as someone recently put it! I am truly disturbed….What is more upsetting is that those privy to such unilateral orders did not speak out, protest or even question it,” he said.
However, it was then when show curator Jesal Thacker interrupted him and asked him to “stick to the topic”. He was told to speak only about Barwe and his works. To which Palekar questioned, “Are you asking me not to speak? You have invited me to speak.”
Shocked at being asked to censor his speech, Palekar said that it reminded him of a similar incident which writer Nayantara Sahgal had once faced. He said that organisers of a Marathi literary event once withdrew her invitation because she was critical of the situations around her at that time.